‘Many tragic stories’: Hawaii governor says Maui fire death toll could … – USA TODAY

Editor’s note: This file is based on the news of the Hawaii wildfires on Monday, Aug. 14. For the latest news and updates on the Maui fire, please see our live updates file for Tuesday, Aug. 15.
LAHAINA, Hawaii − The death toll from the Lahaina fire could double or even triple from the current total of 99, according to Hawaii Gov. Josh Green, adding to what is already the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a century.
In a recorded interview with “CBS Mornings” that aired Monday, Green indicated the number of fatalities is likely to increase considerably. Green later confirmed 99 deaths at a news conference Monday.
“We are prepared for many tragic stories,” Green told CBS. “They will find 10 to 20 people per day, probably, until they finish. And it’s probably going to take 10 days. It’s impossible to guess, really.”
His estimate of 10 to 20 bodies found daily over a 10-day stretch would put the death count at around 200 to 300.
In a video posted on social media late Sunday, Green said more than 2,700 structures were destroyed in Lahaina and an estimated value of $5.6 billion “has gone away.” The Lahaina fire was one of multiple blazes that began burning Tuesday on Maui.
Green said the “fire hurricane,” which he said was new in the age of global warming, was the “ultimate reason” the death toll has been so high.”
Starting Tuesday, authorities will begin releasing the names of those who died amid the blaze, Maui County Police Chief John Pelletier said at the news conference. Names of people will not be released until their families have been notified.
Maui rescue teams search ruins‘full of our loved ones’; Hawaii churches offer prayers for dead, missing: Updates
◾Green said Federal Emergency Management Agency has 416 people working in Hawaii, including Administrator Deanne Criswell. The agency has provided dozens of searchers and 20 dogs to aid the search for human remains in Lahaina, the governor said.
◾The total of missing people in Maui has dwindled from more than 2,000 to about 1,300 as cellphone service has slowly been restored, according to Green.
◾Green said Monday that nearly 2,000 housing units have been secured, including 402 hotel rooms, 1,400 units from Airbnb starting Tuesday, and that 160 residents have opened up their own homes to families in need.
◾The Upcountry/Kula fire that sprawled about 678 acres was 60% contained, Maui officials said in a statement late Sunday. Maui County said the fire destroyed at least 19 homes. The Lahaina fire, estimated to stretch across 2,170 acres, is 85% contained, according to officials.
◾As of Monday, Pelletier said 25% of the area affected by the fire has been searched. He said the aim is to search 85 to 90% of the area by the weekend. Search efforts started with one dog, he said, and there are now 20.
‘It’s heartbreaking’:Without food and fuel, Maui locals lean on neighbors to survive
In his Sunday night video, Green pointed to a blaze that authorities “deemed to be out” and roared to back to life as the likely source of the inferno that wiped away historic Lahaina, although the cause is still under investigation.
“It must have not been completely extinguished,” Green said, adding flames were then fanned by winds of up to 81 mph. “With those kinds of winds and 1,000-degree temperatures, ultimately all the pictures that you will see will be easy to understand.”
Green said a comprehensive review will be conducted in the wake of frustrations that sirens and other warnings did not reach or alert residents to the fires. Because the fire was moving so fast, up to a mile a minute, Green said “it’s unlikely that much could have been done except, of course, moving people out before, and that’s what we’ll talk about.”
As search crews make their way through what Criswell called “extremely hazardous’’ conditions from the Lahaina fire, the agency is also grappling with finding accommodations for displaced survivors in a state with a longstanding housing shortage that has been exacerbated by the disaster.
In addition to paying for lodging at specified hotels and motels for a certain amount of time, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is working with Green on a plan to help provide survivors housing options beyond their immediate needs, Criswell said Monday at a news briefing from Hawaii.
“Whether that means longer term we bring in tiny houses or our transitional housing units to help him create the communities that he wants,’’ she said. “We’re not taking anything off the table and we’re going to be very creative in how we use our authorities to help build these communities and help people find a place to stay for the longer term.’’
Criswell declined to estimate how long the search-and-recovery mission might last, citing the difficulty of an operation that requires for engineers to assess the stability of structures before cadaver-sniffing dogs and crews can go in.
“The dogs can only work so long because of how hot the temperatures are,’’ she said. “There’s also hot spots, and so we have fire crews that are helping to cool down the areas so the dogs can go in there. I’d hate to give an exact estimate because we want to make sure that we are precise and methodical and respectful as we go through this.’’
In Lahaina, where donations are pouring in to help some of those most impacted by the wildfires, volunteers and residents are scrambling to protect their resources and homes before the expected arrival of rain Monday night. Tropical Storm Greg will pass hundreds of miles to the south Thursday and Friday and is expected to have “no direct impacts in the state,” according to the National Hurricane Center, but the forecast calls for showers and breezy conditions in west Maui most of the week.Last week, winds gusts caused in part by passing Hurricane Dora helped fuel the flames in Maui. The upcoming rain may help tamp them down but still presents some hardships.Before the fires ignited on Maui, Andrea Fausett, 29, was the creator of a women’s fitness app who organized trail races for women. Now, she’s become the de facto distribution coordinator, responsible for doling out medical supplies, food and anything else that gets flown into the Kapalua West Maui Airport.As a helicopter whirred in the background Sunday, she said her focus has turned to the incoming storm.“So now one of our biggest issues that we’re working to solve today before it becomes an issue is how to protect all of our supplies that are sitting out in the open right now,” she said. “And so that’s like our next hurdle. I feel like every day it changes.”Father and son Nelson and Wilson Simpliciano worked Sunday to quickly repair their roof, which was damaged by the strong winds last week. The wind already appeared to be picking up, and the elder Simpliciano said he’s worried rain could cause a leak. He wanted to get a tarp down to cover the exposed wood before he leaves the island.“It’s just gonna get worse,” Simpliciano said.
Maui residents are banding together to help each other through the tragedy, trying to provide food, fuel and other resources to those in the worst-hit areas, including the hundreds of people who lost their homes.
They’re finding the task complicated by law enforcement road closures and slow communication from a government some accuse of failing to adequately warn them about the fires, which has prompted the locals to create their own aid systems to provide shelter and other necessities.
“Right now, this is not my home,” said Archie Kalepa, who has been directing dozens of volunteers. “This is our community’s home.”
That community has been devastated by the Lahaina fire, and questions linger about why emergency alert systems failed to notify enough people about the wildfire sweeping through and direct them away from danger. There are also questions about whether the area had the resources to help people, including enough firefighters.
“There probably should have been a more aggressive activation at the onset, more preparation,” Hawaii state Sen. Angus McKelvey said. “We heard about the red flag warning as brush fires were definitely a concern initially, not this cataclysmic totality that overwhelmed the community.”
− N’dea Yancey-Bragg and Terry Collins
Malia Waring’s house wasn’t destroyed when the nation’s deadliest wildfire in a century ripped through Maui last week. But her family is gone and she can’t bear to sit at home thinking about them. Ever since her cousin came to tell her that four members of their family, including her 8-year-old nephew, burned to death in their car while trying to escape the blaze, Waring, 65, has been spending time with friends at Napili Park, which has become one of several crowdsourced aid depots in the beloved, nearly destroyed area of Lahaina.
“I’m very, very emotional if I talk, I don’t know, I will cry,” she said Sunday.
Waring is one of many locals grappling with major loss. And as the community works to provide for people’s immediate physical needs, mental health professionals are preparing to meet the longer-term needs of a town that has barely had time to comprehend and grieve the loss of loved ones, homes, businesses and centuries-old cultural sites. Read more here.
‘No time to grieve’:Maui death count could skyrocket, leaving many survivors traumatized
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who is of Samoan descent and lived in Hawaii for a part of his childhood, is “completely heartbroken” as the Maui wildfires continue to rage. Johnson said in a video posted Sunday on Instagram that he is in contact with relief organizations in Maui such as The Hawaii Community Foundation on the best ways to help.
“I know that, by now, all of you around the world have seen the complete destruction and devastation that has hit our Hawaiian islands – our island of Maui – and I’m completely heartbroken over this and I know all of you are too,” Johnson said. Read more here.
− Naledi Ushe
Authorities have not determined the cause of the Lahaina fire, but a class-action lawsuit on behalf of victims and survivors blames Hawaiian Electric. The suit, filed by LippSmith LLP and other law firms, claims downed power lines owned by Maui Electric, Hawaiian Electric, Hawaii Electric Light and their parent company, Hawaiian Electric Industries, caused the fire.
The lawsuit, obtained by USA TODAY, also claims the utility companies “inexcusably kept their power lines energized during forecasted high fire danger conditions,” ultimately causing “loss of life, serious injuries, destruction of hundreds of homes and businesses, displacement of thousands of people, and damage to many of Hawaii’s historic and cultural sites.”
Hawaiian Electric spokesman Jim Kelly stressed in an email that no cause had been determined and that the company will cooperate with authorities investigating the blaze. “Our immediate focus is on supporting emergency response efforts on Maui and restoring power for our customers and communities as quickly as possible,” Kelly said.
Some firefighters battling to halt the spread of the Lahaina fire found fire hydrants began to run dry, the New York Times reported. As the fire grew, water pressure faded and some hydrants became “largely useless,” the Times reported.
“There was just no water in the hydrants,” firefighter Keahi Ho told the Times.
The Maui Department of Water Supply did not immediately respond to a request for comment from USA TODAY. John Stufflebean, head of the agency, warned people in Lahaina not to drink water even after boiling it until further notice because hundreds of pipes have been damaged by the wildfires.
Firefighters also struggled with high winds, fueled by Hurricane Dora spinning offshore, that spread the fire quickly and limited aerial assaults on the blaze.
Kako‘o Maui Match Donation Fund: Last week the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement helped start the fund and quickly reached its $1.5 million goal. Donations are still being accepted and the council said 100% of proceeds will go toward relief efforts. Information on how to donate can be found here.
Hoʻōla Maui Fund: Contributions to this fund will support Maui youth impacted by the disasters so they can continue to benefit from a strong educational support system. Donations can be made here.
USA TODAY compiled other resources for Americans to help people and animals in Hawaii.
Contributing: The Associated Press


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