Hawaii governor says “loss of life” is at the heart of response to Maui wildfires

Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said Saturday’s operations on his tour would focus on “the loss of life.” the devastation on Lahaina’s popular Front Street with representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “Most of our focus today will be people,” he said.

FEMA said the agency spray-sprayed cars and buildings on Front Street with an “X” to indicate they had received an initial inspection but may still have human remains inside. If crews find remains on another run, they add the letters “HR” next to the “X”.

As the death toll from the island’s fires mounts, it’s unclear how morgues can handle the death toll, considering there’s only one hospital and three morgues.

Wildfires in Hawaii and Maui
Anthony M. La Puente, 44, retrieves items from his home after a wildfire in Lahaina on the Hawaiian island of Maui August 11, 2023.

PAULA RAMON/AFP via Getty Images

The death toll has risen to 80, according to a Maui County statement on Friday. The confirmed death toll in the 9pm announcement rose from the previous figure of 67.

The fire is the deadliest in the US since the Camp Fire in California in 2018, which killed at least 85 people and destroyed the town of Paradise.

Aside from the confirmed deaths on Maui, hundreds more people remain missing.

Mike Rice has been looking for friends on the island but hasn’t heard from them. It’s too early to give up hope, he said, but he hasn’t ruled out the possibility that they might have perished along with dozens of others.

Neither of them had cellphones, he said, making his search for three members of the Hernandez clan all the more difficult.

“I think they could have done very well,” said Rice, who now lives in California. “Maybe they made it or they didn’t, I’m not going to sit around feeling doomed and waiting to find out.”

Emergency managers in Maui were still assessing the extent of the damage in central Lahaina on Saturday and were looking for shelters for people displaced from their homes.

One option is to house some of the survivors and disaster workers at the Sheraton Hotel, which has 200 rooms available, FEMA said in a Saturday morning briefing. However, according to the assessment released by FEMA and the University of Hawaii Pacific Disaster Center, the need for shelter was much greater, estimated at up to 4,500 people.

At least 2,207 structures were Estimated damaged or destroyed by the wildfires, according to preliminary figures from the Pacific Disaster Center, which also estimated the island would likely cost $5.5 billion to rebuild.

There was also new information on the damage to boats on Saturday, with nine boats confirmed to have sunk in Lahaina Harbor, according to sonar.

An aerial view of the devastation of Lahaina
Lahaina, Maui on August 11, 2023. Watercraft carry the scars of the wildfire near downtown Lahaina.

Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

About 30 cell towers were still offline as of Saturday, and western Maui is expected to experience power outages for several weeks.

Some Lahaina residents have expressed frustration at having trouble reaching their homes due to road closures and police checkpoints on the west side of the island.

At the south end of Front Street, a barefoot resident walked around with a laptop and a passport on Saturday morning, asking how to get to the nearest animal shelter. Another person rode a bicycle to take stock of the damage at the harbor where their boat caught fire and sank.

A fire engine and a couple of construction trucks were seen driving through the neighborhood, but it remained eerily devoid of human or official government activity.

The cause of the fires remains unknown. When the Lahaina fire broke out Tuesday, chaos and confusion reigned. Emergency sirens were not activated on the island. Local residents also said the electricity had been cut and they had no access to television or radio. They also said they had not received any SMS notifications. The townspeople only fled when the flames were on their heels.

Hawaii Attorney General Anne Lopez announced Friday that her agency will conduct a “comprehensive review of critical decision-making and policies in place leading up to, during and after the wildfires.”

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