They lost their home and nearly their lives in Lahaina, but can’t get insurance to pay up

The Senate Committee on Commerce and Consumer Protection held a briefing in Lahaina on Thursday.
The Senate Committee on Commerce and Consumer Protection held a briefing in Lahaina on Thursday.(Hawaii News Now)
Published: Sep. 29, 2023 at 12:36 AM PDT|Updated: Sep. 29, 2023 at 4:02 AM PDT
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LAHAINA (HawaiiNewsNow) - A big challenge for many Maui wildfire survivors who lost their homes is difficulties processing insurance claims.

That’s why the Senate Committee on Commerce and Consumer Protection held a briefing at the Lahaina Civic Center on Thursday.

There, they discussed how to help those who are uninsured and underinsured, how insurance adjusters can safely access homes in the burn zone so they can quickly process claims, and insurance rates going up.

However, perhaps the most riveting part of the briefing was Michelle Vu Tran’s testimony to senators detailing how she and her husband barely survived on August 8th.

“I told my husband, I started crying, I told my husband, ‘We’re gonna die here. We die right here,’” Vu Tran said.

Special Section: Maui Wildfires Disaster

Vu Tran said she and her husband were trapped on Front Street trying to get to her father Joseph Vu, 87, who was at his home at the Front Street Apartments.

“I told my husband, ‘Oh my god. My dad. He’s gone already. He died already,’” said Vu Tran.

Vu Tran said things started exploding all around them and the fire started closing in on them.

“The only option was jumping into the ocean, but I don’t know how to swim,” she said.

They jumped in the water anyway because they had no other choice.

“My husband and I, we held hands and we said, ‘There is no way that we die on our daughter’s 25th birthday,’” she said.

“I had a jacket. So, I tied our hands together. I wanted to make sure that if the waves take us out, then people can find our bodies together.”

She said her husband, Kevin Han, started to lose consciousness.

“I said, ‘Don’t leave me here! Don’t die without me! Let’s die together. We’re gonna die together,’” she said. “I kept calling him. ‘Kevin! Kevin! Are you OK? Are you OK, honey?’ He kept silent.

“He couldn’t talk, and I could tell that he was ready to go. I was so scared. I just hit his back. I just pounded him. I said, ‘Wake up! Wake up!’ And then I don’t know what I did, but finally, he coughed.”

Vu Tran said it is a miracle that she, her husband, and her father are alive today.

But now, she can’t get any money from her insurance company because she was told that they need to see her home in person.

Vu Tran doesn’t have access to her house because it’s on Wainee Street — in the blocked-off burn zone. She doesn’t know when access will be granted.

“I never had a chance to go back to see my house. But according to my insurance, they say according to Google Maps, they still see my house standing.”

Vu Tran is calling on lawmakers to help her and others like her.

It’s something senators pledged to do with the help of state agencies.

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