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A New Delay For These Lahaina Fire Survivors Could Scramble Plans To Leave FEMA Hotels Behind

The trailer that Mario Siatris and U‘i Kahue-Cabanting ordered from a camping outfitter in Oregon is bogged down by assembly delays, throwing the business partners’ plans in the air and threatening their hopes for a seamless transition out of their FEMA-funded hotel rooms.

They had originally expected to pick up their new 26-foot trailer on Maui in mid-March. A first delay pushed back the rig’s arrival by a month. Then a second snarl deferred its expected arrival by another two weeks. The trailer’s current ETA? Early May.

The trailer’s assembly now is so far behind that they may not get it before the Federal Emergency Management Agency stops paying the island’s hotels and resorts to house fire survivors. The federal agency has said it wants to end its hotel program by the end of April.

This could leave U‘i and Mario with a gap of some days between a looming hotel move-out date and the trailer’s delivery to Kahului Harbor.

A New Delay For These Lahaina Fire Survivors Could Scramble Plans To Leave FEMA Hotels Behind
Mario Siatris, left, and U‘i Kahue-Cabanting display some of their handwoven coconut crafts at the Festival of Aloha held at Queen Kaahumanu shopping center in Kahului. The business partners lost their home and much of their business in the Aug. 8 Lahaina fire and are working to rebuild their lives. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

The uncertainty is stress-inducing for Mario, who views the trailer as a haven from living under the thumb of FEMA. He’s grateful that the federal government has housed him for so long, but it’s been a stifling experience, particularly because he’s employed by the same resort that he’s called home for the last seven months. Although small and stark, the trailer represents a giant step toward the independence and autonomy he craves.

U‘i says she’s confident that in a bind there are plenty of people who would offer the pair a short-term place to stay.

What’s more, the Oregon-based owners of the resort condominium where Mario’s been living since the fire torched the home he owned on Mela Street have known Mario for years and think of him fondly. They’ve assured him that no matter what happens with the FEMA emergency housing program, they’ll continue to allow him to stay in their condo, without charge, for as long as he needs.

If either of them are going to get kicked out of the hotel program before the trailer arrives, U‘i says it’s her. But she’s not unmoored by the prospect of a messy transition into RV living.

“We’re blessed,” U‘i says. “I know we’re taken care of. But Mario, he worries.”

The trailer is expected to come off the assembly line on April 10. That’s roughly when U‘i and her husband Ronald now plan to fly to Oregon to inspect the rig and sign the financing paperwork.

Then, volunteers from a Hawaiian civic club that last September hosted U’i and Mario for a series of coconut weaving workshops on the outskirts of Portland will drive the trailer to the Port of Portland. It will take about two weeks for the trailer to reach Kahului Harbor.

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