Maui wildfires burn historic town of Lahaina, kill over 90 Hawaiians with hundreds still missing
Terrifying images show the magnitude of the damage in Lahaina, the Maui town that was completely torched by wildfires on August 8. The death toll from the Hawaiian wildfires has reached 93 people with dozens injured and hundreds still missing.
Local officials still do not know the exact origin of the fire, which was spread rapidly by strong winds from Hurricane Dora. Those winds, along with dry conditions and low humidity, spelled disaster for residents – many of whom only had minutes to escape certain death.
As officials evaluate the damage, many residents are still looking for their loved ones. “We woke up and got on our phones to see pictures of our house down to (the) slab. Nothing but smoke and cinders,” one stunned local stated.
“We are still in life preservation mode. Search and rescue is still a primary concern,” Adam Weintraub, a spokesperson for Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, said on August 10. According to Weintraub, search and rescue teams won’t be able to access particular areas until the fire lines are secure and they are sure they can get to those areas safely.
“What we have here is a natural disaster. There may have been questions that need to be examined about whether it was handled in the right way. But we still got people in danger. We still have people who don’t have homes. We still have people who can’t find their loved ones,” Weintraub added.
There are hundreds still missing from Lahaina, which suffered the worst of the fires.
Distressed relatives are sharing a Google document to update one another on the whereabouts of their loved ones. President Brandon has already declared a major disaster in the state of Hawaii to release emergency funding for local officials.
Family members have been advised to contact the Red Cross in addition to local hospitals in a bid to locate their relatives after communication lines were damaged because of the degree of destruction by the fire.
State officials are working with hotels and airlines to move thousands of tourists to another island. The Hawaii Department of Transportation has confirmed that Maui’s Kahului Airport is open.
Maui wildfires the worst natural disaster in Hawaii
Meanwhile, authorities are still trying to identify several victims of the fires. (Related: Canadian officials warn: Wildfire smoke spreading across North America could last all summer.)
Federal emergency workers are now rummaging through the ashen wasteland left by the fires that demolished the centuries-old town of Lahaina. Teams are marking homes with a bright orange X to signify that they had been searched. Maui Police Chief John Pelletier said crews with cadaver dogs had covered just three percent of the area, with the death toll likely to increase again.
Pelletier said identifying the dead is exceedingly difficult because “remains fall apart” when they pick them up. Pelletier urged those with missing family members to go to the family assistance center. “We need you to do the DNA test. We need to identify your loved ones,” he said.
The Wall Street Journal reported on August 12 that fire researchers warned in 2014 that the area was at an exceedingly high risk of burning. Another report in 2020 connected fires to winds from a passing hurricane, comparable to what happened to Lahaina.
The 2014 report warned that Lahaina was among Maui’s most fire-prone areas because of its arid grasslands, winds and steep terrain.
A plan was laid out to shield the area around Lahaina from fires, which included thinning vegetation, improving response capabilities and working with landowners.
Hawaii Governor Josh Green visited the historic Front Street of Lahaina on August 12.
“It will certainly be the worst natural disaster that Hawaii ever faced. We can only wait and support those who are living. Our focus now is to reunite people when we can and get them housing and get them healthcare, and then turn to rebuilding,” Green said.
Green added that no less than 2,200 buildings were damaged or destroyed in West Maui, of which 86 percent were residential. The damage across the island is assessed at nearly $6 billion.
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