“Our Kids Thought We Were Dead”: Local Recounts Terrifying Moments Before Evacuating Maui

Carmela Karcher

“A place that’s dear to me has had a giant natural disaster and killed a lot of people,” Palm Desert Resident Joe Wallace shared.

It all started as a blissful vacation.

Joe Wallace and his wife were enjoying their annual visit to Maui, a place they consider as their second home. 

But once day nine of their trip came around, their power went out.

“So it was like alright, power’s out and it’s like here you think it’ll be on in a couple of hours,” Wallace explained. “So the first day, we didn’t know what was going on in Lahaina. We did take a little walk at about five o’clock and we noticed that people were panic buying gas…from the parking lot, we could see that there was smoke in the direction of Lahaina. We didn’t know if it was grass, if it was buildings, we really had no idea what was going on and we had no internet, we had no bandwidth at all, no bars, period.”

It was on day ten they heard about what may be happening in Lahaina.

“On the second day, it was a person that works at the hotel. We were over there asking, ‘Hey, what’s going on? When are you going to get the power back?’ He says, ‘Lahaina’s gone,’” Wallace shared. “That’s the first we’d heard of it and this is, you know, 20 hours or so after it had happened.”

Their kids back home couldn’t reach them and knew the couple frequently visited friends in Lahaina, right where the fire was the worst.

“Our kids hadn’t heard from us but they were watching the news…our kids thought we were dead,” Wallace said.

But once he and his wife were finally able to find someone with phone service, they called their kids.

“Karen says, ‘Can I use your phone to call my daughter?’ She did, and the daughter just broke down,” Wallace continued.

But that wasn’t the end of their nightmare.

“When the fire that was in the Kaanapali area hit, we could see it,” Wallace described. “Then somebody down on the beach was saying, ‘The fire’s come and it’s gonna kill us all.’ People were running and I mean, it was like something you’d see in a movie.”

They finally reached the airport after being evacuated and it was only then that they truly understood what happened just 5 miles away from them in Lahaina.

“There was a lady who had a friend who was a first responder, and she had actually been down in it and started telling some personal stories,” Wallace shared. “One of her friends had a grandson that went walking his dog, and the kid and the dog both burned. They’re both dead.”

The stories kept coming.

“There was another group of people, new parents with a baby,” Wallace continued. “They got people to help them as they were all treading water and passing the baby around. The baby survived, but they couldn’t find the parents.”

Now that they have returned home, thinking back on the moments they experienced in Maui feels surreal.

“If you love and appreciate something, support it all day, every day,” Wallace tearfully said. “You know, don’t get caught up in the day to day, doing nothing. Get out. Hug the people you’re friends with. Don’t lose touch with family.”

The Wallace’s spent their last night on Maui sleeping in their car.

They safely flew home to the desert over the weekend and despite what they saw, they plan to return to Maui next year as the island is still considered their second home.

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