Share Aloha for Marco Polo Fire Victims: Our Hawaii Diary

THE MARCO POLO APARTMENTS:  A 36-story wave shaped condominium building overlooking the Ala Wai Canal near Waikiki.

Firefighters are at the scene of a five-alarm fire on Kapiolani Boulevard.

KHON2 News report on the fire's aftermath with interviews

EVENTS DURING DAYS 1 TO 4 (Friday to Monday):  In the early afternoon of July 14th, the smartphone news alerts began rolling in about a seven alarm fire raging on the 26th floor of a thirty six story condominium tower in the heart of Honolulu. The fire ultimately devastated three floors containing approximately fifty apartments, with over a hundred firefighters battling five hours to bring the high-rise blaze under control.  

During the initial hours of uncertainly, our community watched social media reports of many residents sheltering in place while others waited behind barricades outside, wondering about their family and friends inside a burning structure of almost six hundred apartment units.  We viewed the fear and tension among everyone concerned.

Tragically, a 54 year old Hawaiian Airlines in-flight manager, his elderly mother, and their pet dog perished in one unit, while a 71 year old dental assistant retiree succumbed in another apartment.  Their families share remembrances about their loved ones in these interviews.

KHON2 News
KHON2 News

In a blink of an eye, many of us seniors normally preoccupied with the day to day struggles of physical ailments and the high cost of medical and living expenses in Hawaii are counting our blessings compared to the plight of the many displaced Marco Polo fire victims, a number of whom are elderly and on fixed incomes.

We are grateful for the bravery of the first responders who worked tirelessly into the night to bring the blaze under control, the efficiency of government leaders including our city mayor mobilizing on site, and the compassion of Red Cross/Salvation Army volunteers and other charitable organizations bringing resources to the victims.

It's heartwarming to see the community outpouring of donations being walked into the Marco Polo lobby, as well as the business community aid being organized, including a $100,000 grant from Associa, the Marco Polo condominium management company.  However, given the uphill battle that many of these victims face, with over 200 apartments dealing with water and smoke damage, so much more is needed.  As reported by KHON2 news linked here, cash donations are the immediate priority at this point.

DAY 5 (Tuesday) MESSAGE FROM ONE FIRE VICTIM SURVIVOR TO OTHERS - Three years ago, my husband and I were sitting down to a routine evening with our beloved dog and cats, when a fire ripped through our two bedroom wooden townhouse within minutes. Nothing can describe those panicked moments of trying to locate our pets, getting away from the flames, and banging on the doors of our neighbors to warn them. I can only imagine the feelings and thoughts of those of you in the Marco Polo building, waiting hours to be told what to do and where to go next.

The shell shock lasts for days, even as you sit at the shelter realizing that you're safe, even as friends and neighbors walk up to you and press money into your hands. The daze continues when you go back and view the wreckage of your home and realize that not only all your possessions are gone, but all the things that those items represent. Irreplaceable objects passed down from generations of your family, mementos from past life events, creations by your children who are now adults. In my case, we also no longer had our vehicles and we didn't know whether our cats had safely exited.

As difficult as this may be for you to believe today, as you grieve for everything that you've lost, things will get better. You will deal with the maze of replacing your identity and day to day documents, realizing for the first time how many different institutions you need to deal with, your bank, the DMV, etc. You may undergo the frustrations, as we did, of years of restoration before the home that you own becomes livable again.

But you will be uplifted by the outpouring of support. My family rallied around us, and we were so fortunate that my sister was able to provide us with her rental so that we could have a base station to work from. Her generosity and the kindness of everyone, including total strangers, enabled us to get through years of recovery, and the slow rebuilding. Many helped us, and in particular we are so grateful for the Red Cross' aid on our behalf. We have just donated to them today and are happy to have an opportunity to pay it forward, because the Marco Polo project is one of the largest disaster relief cases that the Hawaii chapter has been involved with.

I can tell you from our experience that things look bleak today, the financial and emotional losses seem unsurmountable. But one day, whether it be months or years down the road, you will be able to look around and realize that your life is normal again, that you've gained enrichment from the compassion that exists out there for you, and you have new memories and appreciation of your island home. Our thoughts are with you - Chris -

DAY 6 (Wednesday):  BENEFIT CONCERT BY LOCAL MUSICIANS -

Kudos to local entertainers and radio personalities who are banding together to perform a benefit concert at Ward Warehouse on Wednesday evening, with proceeds benefiting the Red Cross for Marco Polo aid efforts.

KITV4 video coverage of the concert is linked here:

http://www.kitv.com/story/35928293/free-concert-benefits-marco-polo-residents

DAY 7 (Thursday):  SOCIAL MEDIA GRASS ROOTS - There's been generous support from large businesses such as Safeway and Home Depot, but we're also seeing grass roots aloha from home and small businesses.  Let us explain: Our dogs' Instagram account has six times the number of followers compared with our page, so cute pups win the popularity contest over senior citizens hands down. Because we wanted to remember the small pet that perished in the fire, we posted a link of this webpage to our Instagram dog account.

The resulting comments by viewers from the California west coast to the New Jersey shore were heartwarming, including donation offers from Ohio. Thoughts and prayers came from as far as Italy. The feedback from the local home and small businesses have been incredible, from the AirBnB owner who has offered to donate one week's use of her home to displaced fire victims, to the Etsy pet accessories maker who is designing a special edition dog bandana with a portion of the proceeds going to the Red Cross.  These types of donations represent a significant part of a home/small business owner's resources and income, so it's such a wonderful demonstration of our island aloha spirit.  Stay tuned . . .

DAY 8 (Friday): BENEFIT BREAKFAST The Red Cross will the beneficiary of Finance Factors' annual charity breakfast, taking place at their building courtyard in the heart of our downtown financial district (1164 Bishop Street) during 6:30 to 9 a.m. on Friday, the one week anniversary of the MP fire. Details for the $6 breakfast are included in this KHON2 video.

BBQ and WINE - Local businesses are beginning to dedicate a portion of their daily proceeds to Red Cross Hawaii for MP relief efforts. On Wednesday, L & L Hawaiian Barbecue donated 10% of its Ward Entertainment Center location sales. A portion of Wine and Canvas Hawaii's Friday painting session seat purchases are being set aside.

Finance Factors charity breakfast from 6:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. on Friday.

Wine and Art Hawaii fundraiser in Waikiki for the victims of last week's Marco Polo fire .

DAY 9 (Saturday): DOG LOVERS SHOW ALOHA - As we mentioned on Day 7, pet owners are rallying through their social media accounts to raise cash donations. We are so happy that Kiara Sakamoto, a long time animal lover, artist and zoologist, reached out to us. Her Etsy shop, Fuzzologist, lists products and art inspired by her own pets and created with love.

Kiara has designed a limited edition black aloha print bandana for pets, modeled here by her own fuzzy chiweenie Dodger.  Through collaboration with her friend Corinne, a matching bow tie for humans is also available for pre-order.  Kiara and Cori are donating 75% of the total sale price directly to the Red Cross of Hawaii, earmarked specifically for the victims of the Marco Polo fire. Please consider showing your aloha to help our neighbors, friends, and family get back on their feet.  

The bandanas and bowties can be pre-ordered at the Fuzzologist Etsy Shop via the link button below.  Kiara and Cori's Instagram accounts respectively are @fuzzologist and @crimson_dyn4m0 if you'd like to follow their posts.  Mahalo to them both for their generosity, creative hard work and compassion. Thank you to those who have already ordered, we can't wait to see the posts of your furbabies in their aloha wear.

Israel Kamakawiwi'ole performance set to scenes of the Hi'ilawe waterfall and Waipi'o Valley on the Big Island of Hawai'i to bring you five minutes of serenity. Photos by Adam Keawe Manalo-Camp

DAY 10 (Sunday): On a day when most of us are off from work, church groups and families are gathering supplies for those in need. MP residents have been going through the processes of insurance claims, inspections, cleanup, and applications for financial aid. The condo management company reports that the focus is expanding to other needed services, such as counseling and childcare, to provide a positive atmosphere while MP residents are trying to adjust to a 'new normal'. We are waiting to hear from some of our Instagram accounts that have family within the building as to what support services and items would be the most helpful at this time (and anyone can email us via the 'Contact Us' link above).

DAYS 11 through 14 (Monday-Thursday): Cleanup efforts are continuing; a resident reports that mold is already forming in their water damaged unit so flooring is being ripped out as quickly as possible. Humidity caused by a tropical storm remnant passing over Oahu is not helping the situation. There's also some concern about asbestos exposure. The asbestos work plan is linked here:  Work Plan PDF

Aloha came full circle on Tuesday when residents, volunteers and first responders came together for 'Taco Tuesday'. What a wonderful way to acknowledge everyone's efforts and gratitude for the donations that have poured in from the community.

 Lei covers Britt Reller's desk at the Hawaiian Airlines in-flight division. (Image: Facebook/Remembering Britt Reller)

Lei covers Britt Reller's desk at the Hawaiian Airlines in-flight division. (Image: Facebook/Remembering Britt Reller)

DAY 15 (Friday 7/28/17) IN CELEBRATION OF BRITT RELLER'S LIFE:  Funeral services for Britt Reller, a Hawaiian Airlines in-flight supervisor, will be open to the public at Central Union Church, with the visitation beginning at 10 a.m., followed by the memorial at 11, and a reception afterwards. Over 2,000 members are sharing their memories of this wonderful man via the Facebook group "Remembering Britt Reller" linked here:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/305930513202192/  The people he touched around the world will raise a glass at 11 a.m. HST in celebration of a life well lived, though ended too quickly.

WEEK THREE (July 28 to August 3): Residents of the heavily damaged units are getting the bad news assessment that it may take six months to a year before their apartments can be occupied again.  Initial damage estimates are topping $100 million at this time. Personal possessions in other units, e.g. water damaged apartments, may not be returnable to the owners due to hazardous materials exposure.  Unless the property owners can pay for professional hazardous material cleanup (usually out of pocket if not covered by rental or homeowners' insurance) by restoration companies, their belongings may need to be destroyed.

Bloomingdale skincare and beauty experts will be providing TLC sessions in the Marco Polo lobby this Friday and Saturday afternoon (2 to 6 p.m.) including makeup and skincare sample giftbags along with hand massage and makeup/skincare sessions.

The resident management team on-site has listed the following donation items as being especially helpful at this time:  Personal hygiene items such as toothpaste, toothbrushes, denture cleaner, hairbrushes, shampoo and conditioner, toilet paper, paper towels, Q-tips, lotion, etc.  Gift cards are also appreciated, especially for nearby vendors such as Times Supermarket, Safeway, Zippy's, McDonald's, Burger King, Jack In the Box, Taco Bell or 7-11). 

PLEASE DONATE:

The Salvation Army is earmarking 100% of your donations designated for "Marco Polo fire relief services" directly to the Marco Polo fire victims. The Hawaii Chapter website link for secure credit card donations is http://www.hawaii.salvationarmy.org/.  Checks payable to 'The Salvation Army' can be mailed to 2950 Manoa Road, Honolulu, HI 96822, and a note can be included in the check memo indicating 'Marco Polo fire relief services' if you'd like to designate the funds for that particular cause.  The Hawaii Red Cross is also accepting donations on their website at http://www.redcross.org/local/hawaii

Progress updates to the condo residents and interested parties are being provided on the management company's Facebook page located at https://www.facebook.com/AssociaHawaii/ and we invite anyone with additional helpful links to contact us for inclusion here.

During the upcoming weeks, our band of seniors will look into organizing fundraisers and we'd welcome your ideas and help for various ways to aid our unfortunate island neighbors. Our hope is that we can consolidate our skills and resources to bring back some comfort and aloha to those who have lost so much.