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After wildfires on Maui killed over 100 people and destroyed the historic town of Lahaina, officials told people looking to travel to the Hawaiian island to stay away. Now, as the economic toll of the fires grows, that message has changed. 

West Maui is losing about $9 million a day, and the rest of the island is feeling the impact. Gina Dello, a cafe owner in South Maui, said that business at her establishment came to a screeching halt in the wake of the fires. 

“We have probably lost three quarters of our business,” said Dello, whose cafe is about 25 miles from Lahaina. 

The cafe is across the street from a beach, surrounded by surf and scuba shops, and Dello said that less tourist spending has had a “huge” impact. Typically, around 3 million tourists visit Maui each year, spending about $5.4 billion dollars in total, according to Hawaii’s Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. Before the wildfires, about 8,000 people arrived on Maui each day. Now, it’s closer to 2,000 people. 

In Lahaina, the destruction and loss of life was so devastating that initially everyone, from the lieutenant governor to native Hawaiian actor Jason Momoa, was telling tourists not to come. Now, with unemployment claims skyrocketing, Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said the island’s economy could collapse without tourists filling its hotels and restaurants, calling the lack of visitors “potentially catastrophic.” 

“In reality we need the tourist dollar,” Dello said. “That’s what drives people’s incomes. It sustains their life. It puts food on their table for their families.” 

Tourists who do visit Maui are still being told to stay out of West Maui, near the Lahaina fire zone. That is expected to last until at least mid-October. Many who lost their homes there are being sheltered in hotel rooms. 

Dello said she is using donations from visitors to provide free meals to those impacted by the fires.

Corey Davis, who said he first canceled his family’s visit but reconsidered, said he’s had an enthusiastic response from locals. 

“We’ve stuck to this side of the island and have not gone to the west side,” Davis said. “All the local shopkeepers and the restaurant owners have all said, ‘Thank you, thank you very much for coming. Thank you very much for supporting us,’ and we were happy to do that.”

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