The death toll from the Maui wildfires has reached 93, leading Governor Josh Green to declare it as the “worst natural disaster that Hawaii ever faced.” The extent of the damage became more apparent four days after the fast-moving blaze destroyed the historic resort town of Lahaina, leaving behind leveled buildings and melted cars. Governor Green expressed shock at the devastation and emphasized the need to support and provide housing and healthcare for those affected, with a focus on rebuilding. The authorities believe that the number of fatalities will continue to rise in the coming days, as only three percent of the search area has been covered by crews with cadaver-sniffing dogs. Maui Police Chief John Pelletier noted that the death toll is likely to grow, as the full size of the tragedy is still unknown.
Federal emergency workers are surveying the fire-ravaged area to search for human remains. They mark the ruins of homes with bright orange X’s to record their initial search and use the code HR when human remains are found. However, the process of identifying the deceased is extremely challenging, as the fire melted metal and caused the remains to fall apart. Only two people have been identified so far. Dogs are being used to assist in the search, and their occasional barks alert handlers to potential corpses. Despite the presence of sirens stationed around the island to warn of natural disasters, they did not sound during the wildfire, and widespread power outages and cellular network disruptions hampered other forms of communication.
Following the tragedy, officials have pledged to examine the state’s emergency notification systems. Some residents questioned whether more could have been done to warn them before the fire engulfed their homes. Some individuals were forced to seek refuge in the Pacific Ocean to escape the flames. The state’s attorney general, Anne Lopez, announced a review of the decision-making process leading up to and during the fire. Governor Green also authorized a review of the emergency response. The damage caused by the wildfires is extensive, with at least 2,200 buildings damaged or destroyed in West Maui, of which 86 percent were residential. Overall, the estimated damage across the island is close to $6 billion. The recovery process is expected to be lengthy and challenging.