HomeTop StoriesThe death toll from the Maui fires is at least 80, damage...

The death toll from the Maui fires is at least 80, damage running into billions of dollars

By Mike Blake and Marco Garcia

KAHULUI, Hawaii (Reuters) – The scale of destruction from the Maui wildfires came into sharper focus on Saturday, as officials warned the death toll was likely to rise to 80 and search teams with cadaver dogs scoured the charred ruins of Lahaina for more victims.

The cost to rebuild the historic resort town was estimated at $5.5 billion, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), after the fast-moving flames consumed more than 1,000 buildings and almost leveled the entire city. .

Officials promised to investigate the state’s emergency alert systems after some residents questioned whether more could have been done to warn people before the fire overtook their homes. Some were forced to wade into the Pacific Ocean to escape.

Sirens stationed around the island — intended to warn of imminent natural disasters — never sounded, and widespread power and mobile outages hampered other forms of alerting.

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The state’s Attorney General Anne Lopez said she launched a review of the decision making both before and during the fire, while Governor Josh Green told CNN he had authorized a review of the emergency response.

Local officials have described a nightmarish confluence of factors, including communication network failures, strong gusts of wind from an offshore hurricane and a separate wildfire dozens of miles away, making it nearly impossible to coordinate in real time with the disaster response agencies that would normally issue. warnings and evacuation orders.

The death toll made the inferno, which broke out Tuesday, Hawaii’s worst natural disaster in history, surpassing a 1961 tsunami that killed 61 people a year after Hawaii became a U.S. state.


Authorities began letting residents back into western Maui on Friday, though the fire zone in Lahaina remained barricaded. Officials warned toxic fumes could emanate from smoldering areas and said search operations continued.

“It will be sad to get down there,” said Za Dacruz, 33, as he waited in a traffic jam Friday to try to get back to Lahaina. “We’re just looking for everyone to live, to be safe — that’s all we’re trying to do. And the rest? We’re going from there.”

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Hundreds of people were still missing, although an exact count was not clear.

At a family aid center in Kahului, June Lacuesta said he was trying to locate nine relatives who had not been heard from since Tuesday.

“When I see the city of Lahaina itself, I can’t describe the feelings I get,” said Lacuesta, who made his way to a church shelter to continue his search.

The disaster began just after midnight on Tuesday when a wildfire was reported in the town of Kula, about 35 miles from Lahaina.

About five hours later, the power went out in Lahaina. In updates posted to Facebook that morning, Maui County said a 4-acre wildfire appeared in Lahaina around 6:30 a.m. but was contained by 10 a.m.

Subsequent updates focused on the Kula fire, which burned hundreds of acres and forced some local evacuations. But around 3:30 p.m., according to county updates, the fire flared up in Lahaina.

Some residents began to evacuate, while people, including hotel guests, on the west side of the city were ordered to take shelter in place. In the following hours, the county posted a series of evacuation orders to Facebook, though it was not clear whether residents received them as people frantically fled the rapidly advancing flames.

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Some witnesses said they received little warning and described their fear as the fire devastated the town around them in a matter of minutes.

(Reporting by Mike Blake in Kahului, Hawaii, and Marco Garcia in Honolulu, Hawaii; Written by Joseph Axe; Edited by Daniel Wallis)

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