Aug 11, 2023 - Podcasts

The largest natural disaster in Hawai'i's history

Catastrophic wildfires across Maui have left at least 55 people dead, at least one thousand others are unaccounted for, hundreds of structures destroyed and thousands homeless. President Biden approved federal disaster relief for Hawai'i on Thursday, and Gov. John Green said it's the largest natural disaster in the state's history.

  • Plus, another trial date has been announced for former President Trump.
  • And, what you can expect to pay at the gas pump this weekend.

Guests: Axios' Alex Fitzpatrick and Sophia Cai; Hawai'i Public Radio's Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Alexandra Botti, Fonda Mwangi, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Robin Linn and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.


NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It's Friday, August 11th.

I'm Niala Boodhoo.

Today, another trial date for former President Trump. Plus, what you can expect to pay at the gas pump this weekend.

But first, the lives and history lost in the Hawai'i wildfires. That's today's One Big Thing.

Catastrophic wildfires across Maui have left at least 53 people dead, at least 1,000 others unaccounted for, hundreds of structures destroyed and thousands homeless. President Biden approved federal disaster relief for Hawai'i yesterday, and Governor John Green said it's the largest natural disaster in the state's history.

We spoke to Hawai'i Public Radio's Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi yesterday evening.

Hi Ku'uwehi, welcome to Axios Today


NIALA: Ku'huwehi, what are you hearing from folks on the ground in Maui?

KU'UWEHI: So, I've heard devastating, heartbreaking, unbelievable were some of the words that I've heard from 46-year-old Torie Hoʻopiʻi as she was sort of holding back tears, describing the wildfire to her hometown. And for many who are still in Lahaina, not able to get back, uh, to their homes. Uh, phone lines are still down and internet, so no idea of how to get in contact for those who may be stranded.

It is kind of too early to tell the extent of loss in terms of lives. But I know that, for those who are searching for family members, even from as far as, you know, the continent and around the world looking for their relatives, it's just sort of a waiting game at this point.

NIALA: For people who don't know about Hawaiian culture or history, what do they need to know about Lahaina?

KU'UWEHI: I'd say that people need to know that it's more than a tourist town. While there are hotels nearby, this was the center of, uh, the Hawaiian kingdom, so it was a center of government and commerce. This is where decisions were being made that would alter the future course of, of Hawai'i, for the next several centuries. And all that, that history is embedded in some of these structures. Waiola Church was seen sort of ablaze in pictures floating through social media. This is the first Hawaiian church on Maui Island, and being that that was also the capital of the Hawaiian kingdom, many of our Hawaiian royalty living in the area at the time would service and worship at this church. And when they had passed away, they were also buried there. So it's not just the church, but the church grounds for Waiola. We haven't been able to assess the damage there, but the idea that their bones and their spirit is still a part of that land is something that for the folks of Waiola Church, they're hoping to assess and, get back to rebuilding.

NIALA: What are people sharing with you about what has been lost?

KUʻUWEHI: I spoke to folks Wednesday, which is sort of very fresh off of the ground that the fire had made Tuesday night. And so a lot of raw emotions over what was lost, but there was also a sense of, of resilience, of hope. This area of Lahaina if you dissect the word in Ulelo Hawaiʻi or Hawaiian language, it means "cruel sun" because it's just so hot. So the people of that area have, for generations, understood that dry conditions and winds that are known to have come through the area are a, you know, prompt ground for, for fires. And they've, they've gone through it before in 2018 with Hurricane Lane, and I think for the people of the area, especially for those who have lived there for generations, there is a sense of loss, but there's that sense of resilience that they can get through this as long as they get through it together.

NIALA: We'll put a link to Ku'uwehi's reporting in our show notes. Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a reporter for Hawai'i Public Radio. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us.

KUʻUWEHI: Mahalo.

NIALA: After the break, Democrats try to catch up on building voter databases.

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today, I'm Niala Boodhoo. Yesterday, special counsel Jack Smith proposed a start date of January 2nd, 2024, for the trial on former President Trump's alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 election. According to the special counsel's office, this date signals what they predict will be a speedy trial.

The former president faces possibly three civil and three criminal trials before Election Day 2024. And we're getting more and more information about who may be testifying in these cases – names like former Vice President and current GOP-rival Mike Pence, RNC chair Ronna McDaniel, and members of Trump's own team, to complicate matters.

Prosecutors have named 84 witnesses in the classified documents case alone, and we're still waiting for another possible indictment out of Georgia, which could come as soon as next week.

In other politics news, President Biden's campaign and Republicans are in a race to identify the most receptive swing voters come 2024. Axios' Sophia Cai has been reporting out if this will give Democrats a leg up over the GOP, which saw significant gains among women and Hispanic voters in the midterms. Hi, Sophia.

SOPHIA CAI: Hey Niala.

NIALA: Sophia, what is this new database that the Biden campaign's rolling out?

SOPHIA: So the database includes voter outreach information for 90% of all U.S. voters that's coming from 500 organizations during the past decade, and that's a huge, kind of, treasure trove of data that the Biden campaign will really be leaning on as they move into the 2024 election.

NIALA: And how long have Republicans been using databases like this to reach out to voters?

SOPHIA: So, the Republicans created their data trust in 2012, and that was in response to sweeping Democratic wins in '08, after really having a very high profile, and high tech, data operation, and they've continued to buy more phone numbers and upload and update the information that they have on some 200 million voters.

NIALA:, And you mentioned that the database has information on whether they're Spanish speaking or whether people have been hostile to Democrats or Republicans. How important is this data to getting people to vote?

SOPHIA: This is core to the ground game. I mean, every presidential campaign is extremely focused on, what some campaigns will call "moving mud" in the early states, in the battleground states, and it's not always flashy. Outreach, whether that is through Facebook or through door knocking or through phone calls, I mean that's how you reach voters where they're at, and that's how you earn the votes.

NIALA: Sophia Cai is part of Axios' politics team. Thanks, Sophia.

SOPHIA: Thanks, Niala.

NIALA: As we head into the weekend, with many of you attempting one last summer vacation maybe, you'll be happy to hear that gas prices are down right now compared to last year's high of nearly $5. The average price for a gallon of gas in the U.S. yesterday was $3.81. That's according to GasBuddy. Axios' Alex Fitzpatrick has been following the trends.

So Alex, I'm sure there are people listening thinking $3.81 is still a little more than I was paying in the past couple of months. How much of that is just because of seasonal demand for summer travel and gas prices?

ALEX FITZPATRICK: I would say most of that is the seasonal stuff you'd expect in the summertime, because there's more demand for travel and all that kind of stuff, prices do tend to go up. There are a couple of, uh, complexifying factors there. Number one is these heat waves going on in the South, in places like Texas and Louisiana. Heat waves slow down oil refining, so that's going to decrease supply and increase price. And then also NOAA is predicting a few more major hurricanes this hurricane season, and obviously, hurricanes can disrupt oil refineries just the same way that heat can. And also, in Saudi Arabia, they've decided to extend production cuts there, which takes a toll and increases global energy costs.

NIALA: When we think about states across the country, are there specific areas that are seeing the biggest fluctuations in gas prices?

ALEX: Yeah, absolutely. Uh, so, prices have gone up most significantly in Iowa, Florida, and Georgia, all between, 5 and 6 percent year over year between now and August 2022. And then they've gotten cheapest, they've come down the most in Idaho, Nevada, and Massachusetts, about 14% to 11%.

NIALA: And is that because of taxes? Why are we seeing such a big variation state to state?

ALEX: Yeah, mostly that's taxes. It also depends on how close states are to refineries or how many they have inside their borders. And there's other factors too. Uh, Florida, for instance, and you're getting most of your gas through a port, situations at a port can change that as well.

NIALA: Alex, do you have any road trips ahead of you for the rest of the summer?

ALEX: Fun fact, the average American drives almost 13,500 miles a year. I'd say I do probably about half of that, including a, uh, I'm taking a family road trip over to Eastern Mass next weekend for a wedding that I'm pretty excited about. Thankfully, though, I recently switched to a plug-in hybrid, so I'll probably get at least a little better mileage than I would have in my old car.

NIALA: Very appropriate for our What's Next editor, Alex Fitzpatrick. Thank you, Alex.

ALEX: Thanks for having me.

NIALA: That's all for this week. Axios Today is produced by Fonda Mwangi, Lydia McMullen-Laird and Robin Linn. Our sound engineer and producer is Alex Sugiura. Alexandra Botti is our supervising producer. Aja Whitaker-Moore is Axios' executive editor. And Sara Kehaulani Goo is Axios' editor-in-chief. Special thanks as always to Axios co-founder Mike Allen.

I'm Niala Boodhoo. Stay safe, enjoy your weekend and we'll see you back here on Monday.

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