WASHINGTON – The people of Lahaina want answers as the death toll continues to rise following devastating wildfires that struck the island of Maui last week.
Maui safety officials say at least 111 people are confirmed dead with many still missing.
Questions, Confusion, and Cries for Help
Now we are learning more about what may have started the fires as the search continues for more than 1,000 unaccounted people in the burned-out areas.
There’s renewed focus on the hours before the fatal fires began. Questions surround what could have sparked the blazes and whether all communities on the island are getting equal aid.
Identifying the Deceased
For now, officials are relying on fingerprints and DNA obtained from recovered human remains and from possible family members in the grim task of identifying victims.
Amid rows of wreckage, crews rely on cadaver dogs to scour the rubble on Maui. It is hoped the recovery of the dead will help bring closure to those who survived the nation’s deadliest fire in more than a century.
In the decimated town of Lahaina, police are asking for privacy for the families as the search for victims continues.
Harrowing Tales of Survival
People who were forced to evacuate can only survey the damage from a distance, point to structures that are no more, and recall how they survived.
“That time that I heard that people are lying on the road, they’re dead,” Lahaina resident Josephine Tomas said. “People are jumping in the water, the ocean, just to survive.”
What Started It? And ‘Why No Sirens?’
Surveillance video from the Maui Bird Conservation Center shows a spark, then a flash, followed by a downed power line. Watching how the flames spread also sparked questions about whether downed power lines ignited the initial fire.
While officials maintain they issued alerts via text message, TV, and radio, those messages couldn’t get through when the power went out.
Maui Emergency Management Agency administrator Herman Andaya told reporters he has “no regret” over the decision to not sound warning sirens during the fast-moving fires.
“I do not,” he said. “I should also note that there are no sirens, mauka, or on the mountainside where the fire was spreading down. So even if you sounded the siren, you would not have saved those people under the mountainside.”
Holding signs asking “Why no sirens” and expressing concerns of inequity, native Hawaiians are leading grassroots relief efforts, saying the government help is lagging.
“They just don’t even have any roots here,” Richy Palalay said. “It’s got to this point where it’s like, who are these people watching us? Do they even properly care for us?”
White House officials say President Biden and his wife Jill Biden, are set to travel to Maui on Monday. They’re expected to meet with first responders and survivors.
This disaster has created a housing shortage on the overall island of Maui.
The Small Business Administration is already approving home loans. Here’s the link to apply for disaster assistance.