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California welder moved to Maui for new job 2 days before disaster struck

California welder moved to Maui for new job 2 days before disaster struck

Matt Mattera had just moved from San Pedro to Maui on Sunday, Aug. 6, where a new job at a chassis repair shop awaited the 29-year-old welder.

He had lined up four roommates — all strangers — who would be sharing a house in Maui that had been arranged through a family real estate friend.

All seemed fine shortly after he’d arrived.

“He’d gone to Costco to get a mattress and a TV set,” his mother, San Pedro resident Susan Mattera, said. “That was the last communication I had with him a few days ago.”

Then, the unthinkable happened.

On Tuesday, Aug. 8, a wind-whipped fire swept through the beloved coastal tourist spot, destroying nearly everything in its path.

Susan Mattera called her son. His cell phone went straight to voicemail.

“Every time I turned the TV on, it looked like a war zone,” Susan Mattera said. “I would just start crying, ‘Where’s my kid?’”

AT&T told her they did spot activity on his phone, which provided a glimmer of hope.

Finally, he sent a text message that got through in the middle of the night:

“I’m fine, I’m OK.”

The younger Mattera’s rental house was in an area that was not hit by the flames, he said.

While further communication broke down, his mother heard what she needed to hear.

That’s a comfort many other families currently don’t have.

The fire’s death toll stood at 96, as of Monday, Aug. 14. But Hawaii’s governor also warned that scores more people could be found dead as search crews go through torched neighborhoods. About 1,300 people remain missing, Gov. Josh Green told “CBS Mornings” in a recorded interview that aired Monday.

“They will find 10 to 20 people per day, probably, until they finish,” he said. “And it’s probably going to take 10 days. It’s impossible to guess, really.”

Cell phone service is slowly being restored on Maui.

And Matt Mattera’s younger sister has since talked briefly with him (while the connection held), their mother said, and he told her of the devastation and deaths he was witnessing all around him. He and his roommates were safe, but without access to food or water.

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Calls were difficult, though they could get “one bar” on their phones by walking to the beach, Susan Mattera said.

When the devastation hit, she said, “my phone was ringing off the hook and getting text messages” from friends and family wondering what she’d heard.

The Matteras are well-known in the port community.

Susan Mattera’s father opened Sorrento’s Restaurant in 1962 and, although the family sold it recently, they are a frequent and well-known presence at the eatery, on Western Avenue near 25th Street, which is renowned for its pizza.

The younger Mattera’s truck, meanwhile, is in a shipping container somewhere in the middle of the ocean, Susan Mattera said; friends had arranged to have it shipped to his new home but it hadn’t arrived when the devastation hit. In the meantime, he still has a rental truck on the island that the company said he can keep until things settle down.

“(Matt) said he’s going to stay” in Maui, his mother said. He wants to do what he can, she said, to help in the recovery.

“He’s a strong kid and he doesn’t run away from tragedies,” she said. “He wants to help. It’s just heartbreaking.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.