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Hawaii’s governor warns that scores more people could be found dead following wildfires on Maui

by Michael Nguyen
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Wildfires

The governor of Hawaii has issued a warning about the potential for many more casualties in the aftermath of fierce wildfires on Maui. Search and rescue teams are meticulously combing through neighborhoods and preparing to search burnt structures, which were engulfed by flames moving at a staggering speed of one mile per minute.

The wildfires have already resulted in the highest death toll in the United States in over a century, with 96 confirmed fatalities. As of the latest update from Maui County on Sunday, two fires have not yet been fully contained.

In an interview aired on Monday, Governor Josh Green stated, “We are bracing for numerous tragic accounts… They could discover 10 to 20 individuals daily, most likely, until the operation is completed. This process might take around 10 days, although it’s quite uncertain.”

With gradual restoration of cell phone service, the count of missing individuals has reduced from over 2,000 to approximately 1,300.

Teams comprising twenty cadaver dogs and numerous personnel are meticulously navigating through areas that have turned into ashes. They are currently conducting a thorough search of streets and blocks, and are expected to soon begin exploring the burnt structures.

Chief John Pelletier of Maui Police mentioned that these teams have only covered a mere 3% of the total search area, as of last Saturday.

The fire that rapidly advanced into the historic town of Lahaina about a week ago razed nearly every building in the community of 13,000 residents. The blaze has been contained to 85%, as reported by the county, while the Upcountry fire has been contained to 60%.

Governor Green described the devastation in Lahaina in a Sunday update, expressing that almost nothing remains, with an estimated loss of value amounting to $5.6 billion.

Even in areas where the fire has subsided, authorities caution that hazardous residues may persist, including in drinking water, due to the emission of toxic fumes by the flames. As many people have lost their homes, officials plan to accommodate them in hotels and vacation rentals.

The cause of the wildfires is currently being investigated, and Governor Green stated that authorities will also evaluate their response. One fire, for instance, was initially believed to be extinguished but later rekindled. Before the fire engulfed Lahaina, Maui County officials failed to activate sirens that could have warned the population, relying instead on social media posts.

Driven by dry weather conditions and strong winds resulting from a passing hurricane, the wildfires on Maui swept through parched vegetation at a rapid pace—up to 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) per minute, according to Governor Green.

“These extreme winds and temperatures of 1,000 degrees will make the images you witness quite self-explanatory,” he commented.

These wildfires constitute the deadliest natural catastrophe in Hawaii in decades, surpassing the death toll of a 1960 tsunami that claimed 61 lives. They also exceed the 2018 Camp Fire in northern California, which led to the deaths of 85 individuals and the destruction of the town of Paradise.

A gathering took place on Sunday to commemorate the deceased. Although the Maria Lanakila Church in Lahaina was spared from the inferno that destroyed much of the surrounding area, its members participated in Mass nearby as search and recovery operations continued.

While urging tourists to refrain from traveling to Maui, Hawaiian authorities have arranged accommodations for evacuees and first responders in numerous hotels. Governor Green has revealed that around 500 hotel rooms will be offered to displaced locals, and an additional 500 rooms will be reserved for Federal Emergency Management Agency personnel. To assist the local economy and preserve jobs, some hotels will continue regular operations.

The state is working on a plan with Airbnb to make rental homes available to locals. In the meantime, individuals like J.P. Mayoga, a cook at the Westin Maui in Kaanapali, have been preparing meals for hotel employees and their families who have been living there since the wildfires. He shared that his girlfriend, daughters, father, and another local are all staying together in a hotel room as it’s safer than being in the toxic debris-covered Lahaina.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Wildfires

What caused the wildfires in Maui?

The cause of the Maui wildfires is currently under investigation. Dry weather conditions and strong winds, possibly resulting from a passing hurricane, played a significant role in fueling the rapid spread of the flames.

How many casualties have been reported so far?

As of the latest update, the wildfires have resulted in a death toll of 96 individuals. This marks the deadliest wildfire incident in the United States in over a century.

How are search and rescue operations being conducted?

Search and rescue crews are meticulously combing through affected neighborhoods street by street. They are also preparing to search buildings that have been charred by the flames, which spread at an alarming speed of one mile per minute.

What is the extent of the damage caused by the wildfires?

The fires consumed a significant portion of the historic town of Lahaina, leaving extensive destruction in their wake. Nearly every building in the town of 13,000 has been destroyed, resulting in a grid of rubble between the ocean and the green slopes.

How long are search and recovery efforts expected to continue?

Governor Josh Green has mentioned that the recovery efforts might take around 10 days, but it’s difficult to predict with certainty due to the scale of devastation and the ongoing search for potential casualties.

Are there any health concerns in the aftermath of the wildfires?

Authorities have cautioned about potential toxic byproducts remaining in the aftermath of the fire, including in drinking water. The release of poisonous fumes by the flames has raised concerns about air quality and environmental hazards.

How has the local community been affected?

Many residents have lost their homes in the wildfires. Authorities are making arrangements to house displaced individuals in hotels and vacation rentals, as well as partnering with organizations like Airbnb to provide accommodations.

What are the future plans for the affected area?

The state is urging tourists to avoid traveling to Maui due to the ongoing recovery efforts. Additionally, hotels are accommodating evacuees and first responders, while some continue regular operations to support the local economy.

What is the significance of these wildfires in terms of historical impact?

These wildfires mark Hawaii’s deadliest natural disaster in decades, surpassing even the death toll of a 1960 tsunami. The incident has had a profound impact on the local community and infrastructure.

How did authorities respond to the wildfires?

Governor Green acknowledged that authorities will evaluate their response to the wildfires. The failure to activate sirens to warn the population and reliance on social media posts are among the issues that will be examined.

More about Wildfires

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