Hawaii governor declares emergency for Maui wildfires

The blaze has prompted evacuation orders and diverted flights on the island of Maui in Hawaii. (County of Maui via AP)
Updated 13 July 2019

Hawaii governor declares emergency for Maui wildfires

  • Wildfires more than tripled in size to spread over about 3,642 hectares
  • Thousands of residents and visitors in the communities of Maalaea and Kihei fled as a precaution

HONOLULU: Hawaii’s governor on Friday declared an emergency on the island of Maui, where firefighters were battling a blaze that forced the evacuations of thousands of people and sent huge clouds of smoke billowing over nearby beaches.
Although most of the evacuees were later allowed to return home, the blaze more than tripled in size to spread over about 3,642 hectares, scorching mostly former sugarcane fields and brush.
“I am declaring our Valley Isle a disaster area for the purpose of implementing the emergency management functions as allowed by law,” Governor David Ige said in a statement.
The fire in Maui, sometimes called the Valley Isle, had been 60 percent contained by sunset but officials warned that even though the shelters were shut, they might need to reopen if more evacuations were ordered.
Authorities had also managed to contain about 35 percent of a second, smaller fire across roughly 81 hectares, that had broken out north of the first near Kahului, forcing some voluntary evacuations.
The major blaze began in the island’s central valley on Thursday, with its flames stoked by steady winds of up to 30 kilometers per hour, officials said.
Thousands of residents and visitors in the communities of Maalaea and Kihei fled as a precaution, while firefighters struggling to quell the blaze drafted in helicopters to drop water on the flames.
There were no reports of injuries or damage to buildings, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser said. The cause of the fire is being investigated.
On Twitter, the governor thanked media mogul Oprah Winfrey, who owns a property on Maui, after she opened a private road on Thursday to assist officials tackling the fire.


A tale of two cities: Project aims to retell lost stories from Lahore, Delhi

Updated 37 min 20 sec ago

A tale of two cities: Project aims to retell lost stories from Lahore, Delhi

  • Will give migrants a virtual tour of their childhood towns and homes torn apart by partition of 1947

NEW DELHI: Sparsh Ahuja and Ameena Malak grew up listening to their grandparents narrate stories of the partition from 1947.
Ahuja’s grandfather, Ishar Das Arora, was 7 years old when the Indian subcontinent was divided into two by the British, creating India and Pakistan. 
More than 14 million people were displaced at the time, and about one million perished in the fighting that followed.
Arora moved from a Pakistani village, named Bela, to Delhi after living in several refugee camps and escaping the violence.
Meanwhile, Malak’s grandfather, Ahmed Rafiq, moved from the Indian city of Hoshiarpur to Pakistan’s Lahore.
Now in their 70s, both the grandparents yearn to go back home and see the places where they were born and spent their childhoods. 
However, the constant uncertainty in the relationship between India and Pakistan and their old age has made the task of visiting their respective birthplaces extremely difficult.
To fulfill the wishes of their grandparents, and several others who yearn to visit their ancestral homelands, Ahuja and Malak decided to launch Project Dastaan (story).
“What started as an idea for a student project last year at Oxford University became a larger peace-building venture,” Ahuja, the director of the project, said.
Project Dastaan is a university-backed virtual reality (VR) peace-building initiative reconnecting displaced survivors of partition with their childhood through bespoke 360-degree digital experiences.
Backed by the South Asia Programme at Oxford, it uses VR headsets to give these migrants, who are often over 80 years old, a virtual tour of their childhood towns and homes. It shows them the people and places they most want to see again by finding the exact locations and memories that the survivors seek to revisit, and recreates them.
“It is a creative effort to start a new kind of conversation based on the direct experience of a now-foreign country in the present, rather than relying upon records and memories from the past,” Ahuja told Arab News.
He added that Pakistan-based Khalid Bashir Rai “teared up after his VR experience, and told us we had transported him back” to his childhood.
“At its heart, the project is a poignant commentary on its own absurdity. By taking these refugees back we are trying to highlight the cultural impact of decades of divisive foreign policy and sectarian conflict on the subcontinent. This is a task for policymakers, not university students. In an ideal world, a project like this shouldn’t exist,” Ahuja said.
Other members of Project Dastaan — Saadia Gardezi and Sam Dalrymple — have a connection with partition, too. Gardezi grew up with partition stories; her grandmother volunteered at refugee camps in Lahore, and her grandfather witnessed terrible violence as a young man.
Dalrymple’s grandfather had been a British officer in India during the twilight years of the British Empire. So scarred was he by the partition that he never visited Dalrymple’s family in Delhi, even after 30 years of them living there.
“I think Dastaan is ultimately about stripping away the layers of politics and trying to solve a very simple problem: That children forced to leave their homes, have never been able to go back again,” Dalrymple told Arab News.
Ahuja added: “The partition projects are a peace offering in the heart of hostility. It is an attempt at creating a wider cultural dialogue between citizens and policymakers of the three countries.”
The project aims to reconnect 75 survivors of the partition of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh with their childhood memories, when the subcontinent observes 75 years of partition in 2022.
Project Dastaan is also producing a documentary called “Child of Empire” that will put viewers in the shoes of a 1947 partition migrant, and will be shown at film festivals and museums.