1) As Death Toll From Maui Fire Reaches 93, Authorities Say Effort To Count The Losses Is Just Starting
IT’S ALREADY THE DEADLIEST U.S. WILDFIRE FOR OVER A CENTURY
Courtesy of Barrie360.com and Canadian PressPublished: Aug 13th, 2023
By Claire Rush, Jennifer Sinco Kelleher And Beatrice Dupuy in Lahaina
LAHAINA, Hawaii (AP) — As the death toll from a wildfire that razed a historic Maui town reached 93, authorities warned Saturday that the effort to find and identify the dead was still in its early stages. It’s already the deadliest U.S. wildfire for over a century.
Crews with cadaver dogs have covered just 3% of the search area, Maui Police Chief John Pelletier said.
“We’ve got an area that we have to contain that is at least 5 square miles and it is full of our loved ones,” noting that the death toll is likely to grow and “none of us really know the size of it yet.”
He spoke as federal emergency workers picked through the ashen moonscape left by the fire that razed the centuries-old town of Lahaina. Teams marked the ruins of homes with a bright orange X to record an initial search, and HR when they found human remains.
Pelletier said identifying the dead is extremely challenging because “we pick up the remains and they fall apart … When we find our family and our friends, the remains that we’re finding is through a fire that melted metal.” Two people have been identified so far, he said.
Dogs worked the rubble, and their occasional bark — used to alert their handlers to a possible corpse — echoed over the hot and colorless landscape.
“It will certainly be the worst natural disaster that Hawaii ever faced,” Gov. Josh Green remarked Saturday as he toured the devastation on historic Front Street. “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.”
At least 2,200 buildings were damaged or destroyed in West Maui, Green said, of which 86% were residential. Across the island, he added, damage was estimated at close to $6 billion. He said it would take “an incredible amount of time” to recover.”
The confirmed death toll was later raised to 93 from the total of 89 announced in a press conference with Green and other officials.
A member of a search-and-rescue team walks along a street, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2023, in Lahaina, Hawaii, following heavy damage caused by wildfires. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
At least two other fires have been burning on Maui, with no fatalities reported thus far: in south Maui’s Kihei area and in the mountainous, inland communities known as Upcountry. A fourth broke out Friday evening in Kaanapali, a coastal community north of Lahaina, but crews were able to extinguish it, authorities said.
Green said the Upcountry fire had affected 544 structures, of which 96% were residential.
Emergency managers in Maui were searching for places to house people displaced from their homes. As many as 4,500 people are in need of shelter, county officials said on Facebook early Saturday, citing figures from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Pacific Disaster Center.
He encouraged 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,” Pelletier said.
Those who escaped counted their blessings, thankful to be alive as they mourned those who didn’t make it.
Retired fire captain Geoff Bogar and his friend of 35 years, Franklin Trejos, initially stayed behind to help others in Lahaina and save Bogar’s house. But as the flames moved closer and closer Tuesday afternoon, they knew they had to get out. Each escaped to his own car. When Bogar’s wouldn’t start, he broke through a window to get out, then crawled on the ground until a police patrol found him and brought him to a hospital.
Trejos wasn’t as lucky. When Bogar returned the next day, he found the bones of his 68-year-old friend in the back seat of his car, lying on top of the remains of the Bogars’ beloved 3-year-old golden retriever Sam, whom he had tried to protect.
Trejos, a native of Costa Rica, had lived for years with Bogar and his wife, Shannon Weber-Bogar, helping her with her seizures when her husband couldn’t. He filled their lives with love and laughter.
“God took a really good man,” Weber-Bogar said.
The newly released death toll surpassed the toll of the 2018 Camp Fire in northern California, which left 85 dead and destroyed the town of Paradise. A century earlier, the 1918 Cloquet Fire broke out in drought-stricken northern Minnesota and raced through a number of rural communities, destroying thousands of homes and killing hundreds.
A member of the search and rescue team walks with her cadaver dog near Front Street on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2023, in Lahaina, Hawaii, following heavy damage caused by wildfires. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
The wildfires are the state’s deadliest natural disaster in decades, surpassing a 1960 tsunami that killed 61 people. An even deadlier tsunami in 1946, which killed more than 150 on the Big Island, prompted development of a territory-wide emergency alert system with sirens that are tested monthly.
Hawaii emergency management records do not indicate the warning sirens sounded before fire hit the town. Officials sent alerts to mobile phones, televisions and radio stations, but widespread power and cellular outages may have limited their reach.
“It outpaced anything firefighters could have done in the early hours,” U.S. Fire Administrator Lori Moore-Merrell said, adding that it moved horizontally, structure to structure and “incredibly fast.”
“It was a low-to-the-ground fire. It was grass-fed by all evidence that we could observe today,” she said.
The most serious blaze swept into Lahaina on Tuesday and destroyed nearly every building in the town of 13,000, leaving a grid of gray rubble wedged between the blue ocean and lush green slopes.
Maui water officials warned Lahaina and Kula residents not to drink running water, which may be contaminated even after boiling, and to only take short, lukewarm showers in well-ventilated rooms to avoid possible chemical vapor exposure.
Maui’s firefighting efforts may have been hampered by limited staff and equipment.
Bobby Lee, president of the Hawaii Firefighters Association, said there are a maximum of 65 county firefighters working at any given time, who are responsible for three islands: Maui, Molokai and Lanai.
Green said officials will review policies and procedures to improve safety.
“People have asked why we are reviewing what’s going on and it’s because the world has changed. A storm now can be a hurricane-fire or a fire-hurricane,” he said. “That’s what we experienced, that’s why we’re looking into these policies, to find out how we can best protect our people.”
Lahaina resident Riley Curran said he doubted that county officials could have done more, given the speed of the onrushing flames. He fled his Front Street home after seeing the oncoming fire from the roof of a neighboring building.
“It’s not that people didn’t try to do anything,” Curran said. “The fire went from zero to 100.”
More than a dozen people formed an assembly line on Kaanapali Beach Saturday to unload water, toiletries, batteries and other essentials from a catamaran that sailed from another part of Maui.
David Taylor, marketing director of Kai Kanani Sailing, which owns the boat, said many of the supplies were for hotel employees who lost their homes and were living with their families at their workplaces.
“The aloha still exists,” he said as the group applauded when they finished unloading the boat. “We all feel it really intensely and everybody wants to feel like they can do something.”
Caitlin McKnight, who also volunteered at an emergency shelter at the island’s war memorial, said she tried to be strong for those who lost everything.
“It was evident that those people, those families, people of the Maui ohana, they went through a traumatic event,” McKnight said, using a Hawaiian word for family. “You could just see it in their face.”
2) Survivors Of Maui Fires Face Power Cuts And Poor Cell Service As Teams Work To Find And ID The Dead
Courtesy Barrie360.com and Canadian PressPublished: Aug 16th, 2023
Survivors of deadly wildfires on Maui contended with intermittent power and unreliable cell service as they sought help rebuilding their lives. Experts, meanwhile, labored to find the dead and identify them.
With the death toll already at 106, a mobile morgue unit with additional coroners arrived in Hawaii on Tuesday to help with the grim task of sorting through remains. The governor warned that a new storm could complicate the search and recovery.
A week after a wildfire all but incinerated the historic town of Lahaina, communication on the island was still difficult. Some people walked periodically to a seawall, where phone connections were strongest, to make calls. Flying low off the coast, a single-prop airplane used a loudspeaker to blare information about where to get water and supplies.
Thousands of people are staying in shelters, in hotel rooms and Airbnb units, or with friends. Around 2,000 homes and businesses still don’t have electricity, Maui County wrote Tuesday night, after the power company restored supply to over 10,000 customers. The fire also contaminated water supplies in many areas.
Victoria Martocci, who lost her scuba business and a boat, planned to travel to her storage unit Wednesday to stash documents and keepsakes given to her by a friend whose house burned.
“These are things she grabbed, the only things she could grab, and I want to keep them safe for her,” Martocci said.
The county also released the names of two victims: Lahaina residents Robert Dyckman, 74, and Buddy Jantoc, 79. They are the first of five who have been identified so far.
Crews with dogs are rushing to secure remains, Gov. Josh Green said, ahead of possible storms forecast for the weekend.
“I want the rain, ironically, but that’s why we’re racing right now to do all the recovery that we can, because winds or heavy rain in that disaster setting … will make it even harder to get the final determination of who we lost,” he said.
Crews using cadaver dogs have scoured about 32% of the burn area, according to Maui County, and Green has warned that scores more bodies could be found. The wildfires are already the deadliest in the U.S. in more than a century.
The governor added that officials are considering cutting off power during the storms as a precautionary measure.
The local power utility has faced criticism for leaving power on as strong winds from a passing hurricane buffeted a parched area last week, and one video shows a cable dangling in a charred patch of grass, surrounded by flames, in the early moments of the wildfire. The cause of the wildfires, some still burning, is still under investigation.
Hawaiian Electric Co. Inc. President and CEO Shelee Kimura said many factors go into a decision to cut power, including the impact on people who rely on specialized medical equipment and concerns that a shutoff in the fire area would have knocked out water pumps.
Maui Police Chief John Pelletier renewed an appeal for families with missing relatives to provide DNA samples. So far 41 samples have been submitted, the county statement said, and 13 DNA profiles have been obtained from remains.
Federal officials sent a mobile morgue unit with coroners, pathologists and technicians to Hawaii to help identify the dead, said Johnathan Greene, a deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The morgue unit included 22 tons of supplies and equipment such as mortuary examination tables and X-ray units, Greene said.
“It’s going to be a very, very difficult mission,” Greene said. “And patience will be incredibly important because of the number of victims.”
Gov. Green told Hawaii News Now that children are among the dead: “When the bodies are smaller, we know it’s a child.”
He described some of the sites being searched as “too much to share or see from just a human perspective.”
The blaze that swept into Lahaina last week destroyed nearly every building in the town of 13,000. That fire has been 85% contained, according to the county. Another blaze known as the Upcountry Fire was 75% contained as of Tuesday evening.
The Lahaina fire caused about $3.2 billion in insured property losses, according to calculations by Karen Clark & Company, a prominent disaster and risk modelling company. That doesn’t count damage to uninsured property. The firm said more than 2,200 buildings were damaged or destroyed by flames, with about 3,000 damaged by fire, smoke or both.
President Joe Biden said Tuesday that he and first lady Jill Biden would visit Hawaii “as soon as we can,” but he doesn’t want his presence to interrupt recovery and cleanup efforts. During a stop in Milwaukee to highlight his economic agenda, Biden pledged that “every asset they need will be there for them.”
Lahaina resident Kekoa Lansford helped rescue people as the flames swept through town. Now he is collecting stories from survivors, hoping to create a timeline of what happened.
The scene was haunting. “Horrible, horrible,” Lansford said. “You ever seen hell in the movies? That is what it looked like. Fire everywhere. Dead people.”