Oprah Winfrey, a long-time resident of Maui, has spent the past several days offering support and aid to people impacted by the
Winfrey has been visiting survivors at the War Memorial Complex in Wailuku, which is sheltering 1,000 residents five days after the worst of the deadliest U.S. wildfire in over a century swept through Maui. Although cameras were barred from the shelter, which is the largest evacuee shelter in Maui County, Winfrey described a scene of people storing their few belongings in garbage bags and sleeping side by side on cots.
Among those whom Winfrey encountered within the shelter was Kanani Adolpho, the spouse of a firefighter and a dedicated volunteer. Despite losing members of her own family in the fires, Adolpho has been a consistent presence at the shelter since its opening.
“I’m just a volunteer, I’m a nobody. I’m just part of the public,” she said. “This is my calling. I was born and raised here, I’m never leaving.”
Adolpho said “every day is different” for her in terms of what’s needed most, but said on Sunday that mental health was her focus as children and families grappled with what they’ve experienced.
At least 96 people died in the fires, with officials expecting the death toll to rise as crews continue to search for victims.
“We are prepared for many tragic stories,” Hawaii Gov. Josh Green told CBS News.
Some Maui residents who escaped the blaze shared their stories of survival. Amelita Tingson sought refuge in the ocean, enduring six hours in the water. Julius, another survivor, recounted his harrowing escape. Overwhelmed by the heat and darkness, he found his way to safety through an opening in the flames.
“At that moment, when I’m running, I cannot see anything. It’s all black. I thought I was going to die,” he said.
He said he heard his skin popping in the heat as he ran. As his sneakers melted, he reached the harbor and extended help to an older woman, carrying her to safety on his back. At the water, he went into the waves to survive the fire.
As the Maui community starts its journey toward recovery, Winfrey said the stories of resilience and survival stand as testaments to the unyielding human spirit in the face of adversity.
“Seeing entire families who’ve lost everything, yet are grateful to have each other, living on air mattresses, cots, and chairs — it truly embodies the Aloha spirit of community and family. We’ve witnessed this in ways that most people can’t even imagine,” she said.