Maui Fires: 93 dead as Hawaii governor warns of ‘significant’ death toll rise
The Hawaiian governor has warned of a “significant” death toll rise as work is underway to identify victims of the Maui wildfires.
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The death toll for the Hawaiian wildfires has risen to 93 after a fire on the island of Maui ripped through the historic town of Lahaina. Hawaii Governor Josh Green has now warned that the number of victims could rise “significantly” after the most deadly US fire in the last century.
Forensic work is now under way to identify the victims, as hundreds of people remain unaccounted for. Hundreds of Hawaiians have filled shelters after fleeing their homes from the fires, as new evacuation orders came into action yesterday.
Mr Green called the disaster “an impossible day” before adding that the wildfires 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 health care, and then turn to rebuilding.”
The wildfires in Maui are now largely under control, with efforts ongoing to fully extinguish them in some parts of the island, including around the devastated Lahaina. Cadaver dogs, trained to detect bodies have now been brought into the coastal town to look for signs of bodies amongst the rubble.
According to Maui police chief John Pelletier, authorities have so far only covered around 3% of the devastated search area. A visibly emotional Mr Pelletier said: “You have to do rapid DNA [testing] to identify them, every one of these 89 are John and Jane Doe [initially unidentified people]. None of us really understand the size of this yet.”
An emergency shelter has been set up at Maui’s War Memorial Complex, with hundreds of victims gathered to receive food, toiletries and medical aid for a continually growing number of volunteers. Large whiteboards inside the shelter have listed what is most needed by the community, including batteries, water and power generators, whilst also announcing that no more clothing was needed.
Around 2,000 buildings are thought to have been damaged or destroyed by the fires, with a majority of these buildings being homes in the Lahaina area of Maui. The main road to the town was briefly re-opened on Saturday, before quickly being closed again, with many still queuing on the Honoapiilani highway in hopes to be allowed through.
The Kahekili Highway is open to residents, however many locals have said the alternative route is far too dangerous to take. The road is known as “the backroad” to Lahaina which is barely wide enough for one car to pass, with a steep drop-off to one side.
The Pacific Disaster Center (PDC) and FEMA have estimated that the cost of rebuilding the devastation on Maui would be around $5.5bn (£4.3bn). The teams are currently coordinating the relief effort to the Hawaiian island from Washington.
Survivors have returned to Lahaina which has become a scene of utter devastation. Hawaii’s attorney general Anne Lopez has since announced plans to conduct a comprehensive review of the decision-making and policies that impacted the response to the wildfires.
Lopez said: “My Department is committed to understanding the decisions that were made before and during the wildfires and to sharing with the public the results of this review.”
The wildfires are Hawaii’s deadliest natural disaster in decades, surpassing the 1960 tsunami which killed 61 people.
Many survivors of the fire said they did not hear the sirens or receive warning to evacuate, which would have given them enough time to prepare. People said they did not realise they were in danger until they saw flames or heard explosions.
Hawaii emergency management records have not indicated that warning sirens were sounded to alert people to evacuate, leaving many running for their lives. It has been reported that officials sent alerts to mobile phones, televisions and radio stations, however widespread power and mobile phone outages may have limited their impact.