‘We’re all still traumatized’: Indiana native describes disaster around her Maui home

INDIANAPOLIS — Devastating wildfires have left dozens of people dead and thousands without homes on the island of Maui this week. One woman who left everything behind in the blaze is an Indiana native.

Ute Finch lives on the edge of Lahaina, where wildfires fueled by drought and a passing hurricane have ravaged entire communities.

“You could hear the explosions from a mile away of the gas stations blowing up and the cars blowing up,” Finch said.

While Finch describes this natural disaster as “bizarre,” she compares its destruction to some she had witnessed growing up in the Midwest.

“I lived in Indiana for 34 years,” Finch said. “I grew up there. We had the tornado disasters there, and this was very much like that, in that people’s lives and businesses were completely destroyed.”

Finch said she quickly evacuated when police came to her doorstep with bullhorns, giving her only a few minutes to get out. The death toll has now climbed to at least 80 people, including a loved one of hers.

“That family member was at his house probably grabbing the last of his things and then the smoke came in,” she said.

To the survivors, organizations like the American Red Cross are sending help to Hawaii.

“The priority is the wellbeing and safety of all the residents,” Indiana Red Cross Regional Communications Manager Matt Kline said. “Our shelters are set up. We have emotional support volunteers as well just to talk through what’s going on and be someone to listen.”

Two of those volunteers are from central Indiana. Kline said they’ll be giving people food, water and places to stay.

“Once things progress a little bit and things are safer for our volunteers and the rest of the team that’s down there to start doing damage assessment, then we can move into that next phase,” Kline said.

Finch said her neighborhood is now covered in ash. Thousands of people lost everything. But she’s confident they’ll rebuild Lahaina.

“We have a tremendous love for this island,” Finch said. “We are Maui strong.”

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