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Top Takeaways

  • The evacuation center at South Maui Community Park Gymnasium is providing shelter and support for those who survived a deadly fire in Lahaina.
  • Mental health experts are working to help survivors process the trauma and cope with anxiety and post-traumatic stress.
  • Anne Landon, a survivor, sought help from psychologists and nurses to cope with her anxiety and difficulty communicating with others.
  • Candee Olafson, another survivor, experienced a nervous breakdown and received support from a nurse to calm down.
  • Both Landon and Olafson express gratitude for the support they received and the help in pulling them out of their traumatic experiences.

KIHEI, Hawaii (AP) — The evacuation center at the South Maui Community Park Gymnasium is now Anne Landon’s safe space. She has a cot and access to food, water, showers, books, and even puzzles that bring people together to pass the evening hours.

But all it took was a strong wind gust for her to be immediately transported back to the terrifying moment a deadly fire overtook her senior apartment complex in Lahaina last week.

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“It’s a trigger,” she said. “The wind was so horrible during that fire.”

Mental health experts are working in Maui to help people who survived the deadliest fire in the U.S. in more than a century make sense of what they endured. While many are still in a state of shock, others are starting to feel overcome with anxiety and post-traumatic stress that experts say could be long-lasting.

Landon, 70, has twice sought help in recent days to help her cope with anxiety. One psychologist she spoke with at an evacuation shelter taught her special breathing techniques to bring her heart rate down. On another occasion, a nurse providing 24/7 crisis support at her current shelter was there to comfort her while she cried.

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“I personally could hardly talk to people,” she said. “Even when I got internet connection and people reached out, I had trouble calling them back.”

The person sleeping on the cot next to her, 65-year-old Candee Olafson, said a nurse helped her while she was having a nervous breakdown. Like Landon, Olafson fled for her life from Lahaina as the wind-whipped flames bore down on the historic town and smoke choked the streets. The trauma of the escape, on top of previous experience with depression, became too much to bear.

Anne Landon walks along a beach with her dog, LaVida in Kihei, Hawaii. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

“Everything culminated — I finally just lost it,” she said.

Olafson said a nurse came over and told her, “Just look at me,” until she calmed down. Looking into the nurse’s eyes, she came back down to earth.

“These people pulled me out faster than I’ve ever been pulled out from the abyss,” she said.

What they witnessed as they…

Despite the physical safety provided by the evacuation center, survivors of the deadly fire in Lahaina, Maui are grappling with the emotional toll of their experience. Mental health experts are on hand to help individuals process their trauma and manage the anxiety and post-traumatic stress that may arise.

Anne Landon, a 70-year-old survivor, has sought help multiple times to cope with her anxiety. She received guidance from a psychologist at the evacuation shelter on breathing techniques that help lower her heart rate. Additionally, a nurse at the shelter has been providing 24/7 crisis support and comfort during moments of distress.

For Landon, the strong winds during the fire trigger her traumatic memories. The gusts of wind at the evacuation center serve as a reminder of the terrifying moment when the fire overtook her senior apartment complex. Despite the support she receives, Landon still struggles with communication and finds it difficult to reach out to others.

Candee Olafson, a 65-year-old survivor, also experienced a nervous breakdown during the escape from Lahaina. A nurse at the shelter helped her through the episode by providing reassurance and maintaining eye contact until she calmed down. Olafson’s previous experience with depression compounded the trauma of the fire, making it overwhelming to bear.

The survivors recognize the importance of the support they receive from mental health professionals. They credit these individuals for pulling them out of their darkest moments and helping them navigate the aftermath of the fire. However, the emotional impact of the fire is expected to be long-lasting, and ongoing mental health support will be crucial for the survivors.

The evacuation center, though providing physical necessities such as food, water, showers, and shelter, cannot fully address the emotional scars left by the deadly fire. The survivors continue to grapple with the traumatic memories and anxieties associated with the event. Mental health experts will play a significant role in helping them heal and rebuild their lives.

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