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Hawaii calls for tourists to visit Maui as unemployment claims surge after deadly wildfires

Supplies for Lahaina fire victims are gathered and delivered by Hawaiians sailing on a large catamaran who often sail around the world together to Lahaina neighborhoods.
Robert Gauthier | Los Angeles Times | Getty Images

Officials in Hawaii are encouraging tourists to visit Maui to help support the economy as unemployment claims surge on the island in the wake of deadly wildfires in the western region.

West Maui is off limits to visitors through at least Oct. 17 as search and recovery efforts continue in the devastated town of Lahaina, according to Gov. Josh Green’s latest emergency proclamation.

But the governor and the Hawaii Tourism Authority are encouraging tourists to visit all other areas of Maui to help support a local economy that is suffering in the wake of the blaze.

Sen. Brian Schatz said furloughs and layoffs are starting to pick up because people think the whole island is closed.

Unemployment claims in Maui have skyrocketed from 130 shortly before the blaze to 4,449 as of last week, according to data from the Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

Schatz encouraged tourists to visit South Maui: “If you are planning a trip to Wailea or Kihei, don’t cancel. If you want to come to Hawaii pls consider South Maui,” the senator said on social media Thursday.

Green said on Monday that the areas on the island outside West Maui and the rest of the state are safe and open for business.

“When you come, you will support our local economy and help speed the recovery of the people that are suffering right now,” Green said on Monday during a press conference with President Joe Biden.

The wildfires have killed at least 115 people and caused billions of dollars in property damage in the deadliest U.S. blaze in more than a century and the worst disaster in Hawaii state history.

Moody’s estimated this week the wildfires have caused between $4 billion and $6 billion in economic losses. The estimate is likely low because it focuses on damage to physical infrastructure.

The figure did not factor in the expected hit that Hawaii’s overall gross domestic product will take, the money government agencies have spent on the response, and the social costs of the wildfires.

Moody’s said the rebuilding process will add to the total economic losses due to the impact of inflation during a recovery that is expected to take years, the high cost of labor in the construction industry and because goods on Maui are more expensive due to its remote island location.

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