The wildfires ripping through the Hawaiian island of Maui killed at least 55 people, razed the historic town of Lahaina and caused extensive damage to over 1,700 structures that is likely to take years and cost billions of dollars to repair.
Maui County Police Chief John Pelletier said the death toll is expected to rise, while Hawaii Gov. Josh Green, M.D., blamed the fires on global warming, saying: “Climate change is here, and it’s affecting the islands.”
“What we saw today was likely the largest natural disaster in Hawai‘i state history,” said Green. “It’s going to take a great deal of time to recover from this, but we have the support from every level of government all the way up to the federal level, especially given President Biden’s approval of my disaster declaration request today. It will be a tremendous effort, but we will come together as a community and begin working toward rebuilding from this tragedy.”
Rescue teams have not yet searched the interiors of buildings for victims, said Maui County Mayor Richard T. Bissen Jr., who added that the death toll consists of people whose bodies have been found outdoors.
Green appeared with Bissen; U.S. Senator Brian Schatz; Major General Kenneth Hara, the Adjutant General for the State of Hawaii, Department of Defense; and various federal and county government officials to provide a coordinated update on the status of Maui’s damage and ongoing efforts to support those affected from the wildfires.
The event was live-streamed on the Governor’s Facebook page sharing the latest news after an on-the-ground assessment of the affected areas.
The U.S. Coast Guard rescued 14 people from the harbor, much of which has been destroyed. All of the survivors are reported to be in stable condition, after they fled into the ocean to try to escape the encroaching flames.
“Maui and The Lahaina community have been my home for several decades,” said Mick Fleetwood, the leader of the rock band Fleetwood Mac. “This is a devastating moment for Maui and many are suffering unimaginable loss. Fleetwoods on Front Street has been lost and while we are heartbroken our main priority is the safety of our dear staff and team members.”
“On behalf of myself and my family, I share my heartfelt thoughts and prayers for the people of Maui. We are committed to supporting the community and those affected by this disaster in the days, months, and years to come,” said Fleetwood.
Bissen added that the strong winds that fueled the wildfires put the emergency siren system in “an impossible situation” to properly warn residents to evacuate the area.
More than 11,000 people remained without power on Maui as of early Friday, according to PowerOutage.us. It could take weeks to months to get power back up in some of the affected places, Green said.
None of the four major fires that erupted on Maui on Tuesday have been fully contained yet, Maui County Fire Chief Bradford Ventura said. Ventura — who said the wildfire that caused widespread damage in Lahaina was 80 percent contained as of Thursday morning — cautioned that there is still “potential for rapid fire behavior.”
President Joe Biden declared a “major disaster” in Hawaii on Thursday and ordered federal aid to areas affected by wildfires.
Hawaii authorities have also announced a price freeze on all commodities on the island of Maui, mandating that essential items including food, water, gasoline, and cooking fuel be sold at pre-emergency price levels.