Aug. 12—MAALAEA, Maui. — Less than five hours after Maui County officials opened Honoapiilani Highway at noon today to allow Lahaina residents to return for the first time since Tuesday’s wildfires destroyed the town, police closed the road in both directions after confrontations broke out between residents and police over access to closed areas.
Traffic had been flowing relatively smoothly through the Maalaea checkpoint before then, with police screening motorists to make sure that only Lahaina residents with identification, or visitors who could prove they were hotel guests in West Maui, could be let in.
Between 4 and 4:30 p.m., motorists waiting in a long line of cars on the Wailuku side of the checkpoint watched nearly 20 police cars and an ambulance speed by toward Lahaina.
A short while later, police officers walking along the line of stopped cars informed motorists that the road was closed indefinitely in both directions.
When asked for more information, an officer said a large number of vehicles were parked along the Lahaina Bypass and people had been walking into prohibited areas makai of the bypass, and that some of them became “emotional” when told by police to leave the area.
A second officer added that a near riot broke out in Lahaina between about 100 people and officers.
Motorists were told that it was unknown when the highway would be reopened and were advised to turn around.
Maui Police Department officials did not immediately respond to Honolulu Star- Advertiser requests for additional information this evening, including whether there were any arrests or injuries.
By 6 p.m., the highway at Maalaea appeared to be reopened to traffic outbound from Lahaina but remained closed to vehicles headed toward West Maui.
Maui County subsequently released a statement, saying, “The road to Lahaina was opened for local residents to provide medication and supplies to their families that remain in homes on the west side and in need of such assistance outside of the fire/biohazard zone.
“Many people are parking on the Lahaina Bypass and walking into the areas Makai of the bypass, which is locked down due to hazardous conditions and biohazards. This zone has been declared by Mayor (Richard) Bissen as an authorized personnel area only, and those caught within this zone will be escorted out and may be arrested. This area is an active police scene, and we need to preserve the dignity of lives lost and respect their surviving family.
“Unauthorized entry to these areas increases danger to themselves and delays our operations, as MPD and National Guard personnel must stop their searching efforts and escort individuals out. If people continue to disobey the orders, entry to Lahaina will be closed again and open to emergency personnel only.”
Jeff Hickman, director of public affairs for the state’s Department of Defense, said 48 National Guard personnel are conducting search and rescue on Maui, and 20 others are doing traffic control.
He said he’s not sure where those 20 personnel are stationed but said that 10 are on duty per shift, adding that the National Guard on Maui now are following orders from Maui County leadership. They don’t have arresting power, Hickman said.
Currently, there aren’t any requests to bring in more Guard personnel to Maui, he said.
Access also was being restricted in the Kaanapali area, where Maui police said it was evacuating residents around 6:30 p.m. today.
Entry into the area will be allowed “once it is safe to do so,” MPD said on its Facebook Page.
Police said that individuals had entered “restricted, dangerous, active investigation scenes” and said no unauthorized personnel are allowed in the burnt-out disaster zone. “Violators will be removed from the area and may face arrest,” it said.
Star-Advertiser writer Mark Ladao contributed to this report.