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Once search for remains is complete, clean-up of Lahaina’s hazards will be a daunting task

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – First responders continue to assess the area known as “ground zero” in Lahaina. And as of Monday, at least 85% of the area has been searched for remains.

Once that grueling work completed, then comes the next step of cleaning up the entire town — a massive project that leaders say will require a collaborative approach.

“You can’t just get heavy equipment and start digging stuff up,” said U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in an interview with Hawaii News Now. “You need to assess the hazardous material, figure out what your plan is for each part of the hazardous material picture and then go about doing it.”

Schatz says it will likely be up to FEMA, the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to come up with a disposal plan because the hazards are so immense.

Restoration expert and Construction Industry of Maui board member Anthony Nelson agreed.

“Given the age of the town, you always have the usual suspects of asbestos, lead, any sort of heavy metals,” Nelson said. “Those are just common in construction across the past 100 years.”

Nelson has two decades of experience in the restoration industry and worked to repair the Marco Polo building after its fire in 2017. He says rebuilding an entire town will be a massive feat.

“It took us two years to get that building to a condition to where it could be rebuilt,” Nelson said. “To assume, it’s gonna take any less that that, to get Lahaina to a place to where structures can be built and it’s free of any known and recognized hazards, I think that’s conservative at best.”

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In addition to the physical debris, there are a number of health risk factors, including long-term respiratory illnesses, similar to what emergency responders, relief workers and even New York City residents experienced following the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

“I think the 9/11 lesson is an important one,” Schatz said.

“We have to make sure to take care of our first responders who went in there without regard for their own safety and who continue to work the perimeter of Lahaina town.”

Nelson extends that concern for those assisting with relief efforts near the impact zone.

“I would just encourage them please, please, please wear respiratory protection, even if it’s just an N95 dust mask that you can find,” Nelson said.

“Something is better than nothing and we’re gonna need you for a long time to rebuild these communities. So don’t do anything that jeopardizes your health today.”

When it comes to actually moving the debris once cleared from Lahaina, Schatz suggests the best method would be having it shipped off island instead of using a landfill.


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