April 13, 2024, Saturday
Nepal 1:37:26 pm

Maui wildfires deadliest in a century as death toll crosses 90

The Nepal Weekly
August 15, 2023

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 wildfire in the USA  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 added.

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 earlier during a press meet with Green and other officials. 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 announced. 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 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. (Agencies)