Frustration remains for Marco Polo residents two months after building ravaged by fire

Local News

Thursday, Sept. 14, marks two months since the Marco Polo high-rise fire killed three residents and displaced dozens of others still until this day.

The fire department says the investigation is finished, but it will not release the cause for a few more weeks.

We do know what’s been ruled out, and why the progress to get people back into their units has taken this long.

The outside of the Marco Polo building still has a long way to go before all of the units damaged by the fire are fully repaired.

The entire 26th and 27th floors remain off-limits, along with portions of the floors below and above.

Related Story: Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), at the request of Gov. David Ige, have issued formal disaster declarations for the Marco Polo high-rise fire. This action makes low-interest federal disaster loans available to Marco Polo owners and tenants in need. Click here for the details.

For some former residents like Joel Horiguchi, many questions still remain unanswered.

“Me and the wife, we have been getting upset. We just want closure so we have kind of been getting upset at the fact that we haven’t had any answers from them. We don’t know what’s going to happen with that stuff that still inside there,” he said.

Horiguchi was renting in the Marco Polo at the time of the fire. He didn’t have renters insurance.

He’s since moved into a new apartment, but hasn’t been able to get back into the Marco Polo to see what he can salvage.

“I just want them to stop giving us the runaround. It’s tiresome going there week by week asking them questions and getting no answers,” Horiguchi said. “I want them to do something. It’s been two months already. Give us some answers. Don’t shut the door on us or just don’t give us the runaround. That’s what I want from them primarily.”

Karen Lynn hasn’t been back in her apartment for weeks. She lived on the 27th floor, on the opposite end of where the fire started.

“Why can’t we sequester our end of the building, which we believe was unaffected from the fire?” Lynn asked.

Associa, the company dealing with the inspection and repair of the building, called it a “project of historic proportions.”

“The reason for those closures is to allow the forensics team and insurance companies to conduct investigation as to cause and future risk mitigation, and to preserve any evidence related to the fire for subsequent action by people who may be impacted by it,” said Andrew Fortin, Associa’s senior vice president of external affairs.

So why is it taking this long for people to be let back into their apartments? According to Fortin, all 500 units had to be inspected, including four commercial spaces. Air quality testing also had to be done along with repair work planning.

“There’s debris in the hallways and floors that do contain asbestos, and until that gets cleared out, it creates a health risk,” Fortin said.

“I think we have been patient enough that we deserve better answers than health and safety,” Lynn said. “Okay, if that’s true then show me the test results. Show me that there is something to be worried about.”

As for repair reports for individual units, Associa is in contact with residents and will be sending them out in the coming weeks.

“So we’re on the verge of that information starting to flow in a more frequent and consistent manner to folks. We totally understand the uncertainty and the anxiety and the eagerness we all have to make sure people get back into their houses,” Fortin said.

Associa says face-to-face meetings with residents will happen eventually.

“The town hall meeting, or open board meeting, will take place,” Fortin promised. “What we communicated is that meeting will take place when there are real answers to real questions. Right now we are still waiting on the cause of that fire.”

HFD has already ruled out a cooking fire and says the fire wasn’t intentionally set, and no flammable liquids were used as an accelerant.

Even though HFD’s report is finished, it is undergoing an extensive review, saying that because of the size of the fire and amount of damage, the report is much longer than a normal incident report and needs to be checked for accuracy.

But for Horiguchi, answers can’t come soon enough.

“Not knowing what’s going to happen to it, if we are ever going to get it back and if we are ever going to get closure to this whole entire thing. It’s one of those things that you to try to move on. I know my wife will be really happy if were able to get partial of our items back,” he said.

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