Rabbi Mendy Zirkind, a Chabad chassid who together with his wife Chani, runs a kosher farm on the island of Maui in Hawaii, where the death toll from the deadliest wildfires in the US in over a century reached 99 as of Monday evening, told Israel’s Kan News “that there may have been major safety lapses here.”
“On Tuesday morning we started receiving messages asking us if we had electricity, internet, and cell phone connection,” Rabbi Zirkind said. “Then we started hearing that there were some fires in the west. That wasn’t anything new, there are always some fires there. They come and put them out and life goes on.”
“The first time we realized that something really serious had happened was on Tuesday evening at about 7:30 p.m, when my wife received a message from an Israeli family who lived there [in the historic town of Lahaina on the island which was completely devastated by the fires], who told her, ‘We’re fleeing from the fire and we’re coming to you, I don’t know if we can go back there.'”
“When they arrived, we knew that the roads were blocked. On Tuesday night, 35 people slept at our farm, most of them tourists who have been stuck for hours. It was only on Wednesday morning that we began to understand the scale of the catastrophe, that an entire town on our small island had simply disappeared.”
Regarding claims in the local media that the authorities failed to provide adequate warnings to residents and ignored reports of the impending danger – Rabbi Zirkind said that he never understood why the electric cables weren’t underground.
“These power lines go towards this town along the coast,” he explained. “Apparently there was a short circuit that caused the fires to start. When I got there I saw dozens of electricity poles on the road, there were houses that were on fire. To my surprise, I hardly saw any fire trucks.”
There are an estimated 2,000 to 3,500 Jews in Maui and Lahaina had a small Jewish community, mostly Israelis.
Chabad shliach Rabbi Mendy Krasnjanski, who together with his wife Mushka, runs a Bais Chabad in Maui, told JewishPress.com on Sunday that they weren’t on the island when the fires began raging as they had gone to visit relatives. “It’s hard to wrap our heads around it,” Krasnjanki said. “It was beautiful, sunny Maui when I left – and I am returning to a disaster relief effort. It’s a painful situation but we have to step up and do what we can.”
Krasnjanski added that baruch Hashem, none of the Jewish residents of Maui were injured or lost their lives but many lost their homes and businesses. “It’s a very difficult situation,” he said. “People have lost everything. People who were away from their homes when the fires began couldn’t get back into the area, so they came to the Chabad House.”
Collive.com spoke with two Jewish residents of Maui. “It’s like the apocalypse,” Heather Samuels said. “So many of our friends’ homes have burnt down. Their businesses ruined.”
Laura Kaplan said: “Lahaina is burned to the ground, the Maui Kosher Farm has become a soup kitchen for the displaced Jews. People are having a hard time finding their loved ones- its absolute chaos. There are currently 4,000 tourists in the airport and surrounding area trying to get off the island. All I can say is that Hashem is in charge here.”
If anyone is interested in assisting the Jews of Maui, Rabbi Zirkind has launched a relief fund.
(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)