The Hawaiian island of Maui has experienced devastating wildfires this week, resulting in a tragic increase in the number of confirmed deaths to 80, according to authorities. The initial estimated cost of rebuilding after the destruction is close to $6 billion. Both the Pacific Disaster Center (PDC) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have released maps displaying the extent of the damage caused by the wildfires in Maui County.
As of August 11, 2023, the fire that tore through the historic coastal town of Lahainna has left an estimated total of 2,719 structures exposed, with 2,207 structures damaged or destroyed, and 2,170 acres burned. These numbers greatly exceed the initial reports stating that only 270 structures had been affected. The majority of the buildings impacted by the fire are residential. The rebuild cost for Lahainna is projected to be $5.52 billion, according to the maps and reports released over the weekend.
In the town of Kula, 544 structures were exposed and 678 acres were burned. The estimated cost to rebuild in Kula is $434 million, as indicated by the maps. The cause of the fires has not yet been determined, but dry vegetation and strong winds resulting from Hurricane Dora, a Category 5 storm located several hundred miles off the coast, created the worst possible conditions for the rapid spread of the flames.
Survivors have reported that they did not receive any warning of the imminent danger, despite Hawaii boasting a state-of-the-art siren alert system. Hawaii emergency management records show no record of the state’s 400 warning sirens being triggered prior to the wildfires. Residents in Lahainna tragically lost their lives as they attempted to flee in cars, while others were trapped in their homes and some had to jump into the ocean. Alert messages were sent to mobile phones, television, and radio stations, but downed power and cell phone coverage may have prevented their reach.
The wildfires moved so quickly from the brush into inhabited areas that it was impossible to alert the emergency management agencies responsible for issuing alerts, stated Maui Fire Department Chief Brad Ventura. The official number of confirmed fatalities has risen to 80, up from the previous count of 67. Governor Josh Green warned that the death toll would likely increase as search and rescue operations continue.
Efforts to extinguish flare-ups and contain fires in Lahainna, Pulehu, Kihei, and Upcountry Maui are ongoing. Access to West Maui is restricted by the police, but one highway remains open for vehicles leaving Lahainna. The burned historic Lahainna town area is barricaded, and the public has been advised to stay away due to hazards, including toxic particles from smoldering areas.
Cadaver-sniffing dogs have been deployed to search for the deceased, and there are still many individuals unaccounted for. Widespread disruptions to electricity and cell phone signal have hampered efforts to locate people in need. The recovery process is expected to be complex and dangerous, and authorities have imposed a curfew from 10pm to 6am to ensure public safety.