As distraught residents of Maui cope in the wake of the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than 100 years, they’re now being plagued by unscrupulous investors and realtors looking to buy up their scorched land.
In a now-viral TikTok video on the Lahaina Fire Updates account, a Hawaii woman has lashed out at the “pilau hewa s—” — loosely translated from Hawaiian to “rotten; wrongdoing” — that has occurred since the devastating blaze swept through western Maui last week, destroying the historic resort town of Lahaina and taking over 100 lives and counting.
“How dare you do that to our community right now,” she said. “I am so frustrated, hearing since yesterday that multiple families that I know personally were reached out [to] and offered money from investors and realtors. Shame on you.”
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She called on any victims of such solicitation to get the names and business information of anyone trying to get them to sell their homes so that “we can put them on blast.”
Hawaiian officials have also warned residents to be wary of “people posing as real estate agents who may have ill intent” — while local families and the state battle through disaster response and recovery.
A plea for Maui residents
More than 2,200 structures have been destroyed or damaged by the fires — about 86% of them residential — Hawaii’s Governor Josh Green announced in a press briefing on Monday, where he said “the scale of the destruction is incredible.”
He also noted that residents should expect it to take a very long time before any new housing can be built to replace burned properties.
For some, that delay in the wake of such destruction will be too difficult to bear — and that sentiment is precisely what some investors and realtors are preying upon, according to the Lahaina resident on TikTok.
“If you are a Maui realtor contributing to that, karma’s gonna come and get you. That is pilau,” the woman said. “And if you are a realtor and … investors are calling you to represent them, I hope you have dignity and aloha and compassion to turn them away and tell them off.”
In a longer version of the clip on the Kāko’o Haleakalā Instagram account, the woman breaks into tears, telling viewers: “I know it’s hard … and it may feel a lot easier to just move to the continent, but we cannot keep displacing our people. We need to make sure you guys can go back home … so just know that we’re going to figure this out.
“Please don’t leave, we’re going to figure this out.”
The emotional clip has already garnered a lot of support — with many commenters pointing out the distasteful timing of the investors’ solicitation, given the fact that hundreds of people are still missing.
“Sad, very sad that these investors would stoop that low when families have lost everything including loved ones,” one TikTok user commented.
Meanwhile on Instagram, one commenter replied: “Those bloodsuckers make me sick. These are [people’s] homes that some have lived in for generations. I find this absolutely disgusting. It’s like an ambulance chaser…”
And another wrote: “The local gov needs to do something now. This is purely predatory and should be illegal.”
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Governor Green’s warning
Governor Green held a press briefing on Monday where he said local officials are already trying to combat scammers targeting vulnerable residents who have lost their homes.
“I’ve reached out to the attorney general to explore options to do a moratorium on any sales of properties that have been damaged or destroyed,” he said.
“Moreover, I would caution people that it’s going to be a very long time before any growth, or housing can be built. And so, you would be pretty poorly informed if you try to steal land from our people and then build here.”
He also promised that the state of Hawaii would invest resources to “preserve and protect this land for our people; not for any development, for our people locally.
“Much of what we do is challenged by other laws, federal and otherwise, that don’t let us restrict who can buy in our state. But we can do it deliberately during a crisis, and that’s what we’re doing,” Green added.
“So for my part I will try to allow no one from outside our state to buy any land until we get through this crisis and decide what Lāhainā should be in the future.”
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