Hawaii’s Attorney General, Anne Lopez, said on Saturday her office is launching an examination into the authorities’ response to the wildfires that have killed at least 67 people.
The death toll, included 12 additional deaths reported in Lahaina, making it the deadliest natural disaster in the state’s history. It surpassed a tsunami that killed 61 people on the Big Island of Hawaii in 1960, a year after Hawaii joined the United States.
“My Department is committed to understanding the decisions that were made before and during the wildfires and to sharing with the public the results of this review,” Lopez said. “As we continue to support all aspects of the ongoing relief effort, now is the time to begin this process of understanding.”
The death toll was likely to climb further as rescuers, assisted by cadaver dogs, combed the town’s charred ruins. Officials said firefighters continued to battle the blaze, which has not yet been fully contained.
There are six shelters for displaced people on the island, and officials said they are preparing a plan to house the new homeless in hotels and tourist rental properties.
Survivers assess damage
Meanwhile, Lahaina residents were allowed to return home for the first time to assess the damage on Friday afternoon.
Anthony La Puente said the shock of finding his home burned to nothing was profound.
“It sucks not being able to find the things you grew up with, or the things you remember,” he said of the house he had lived in for 16 years.
Officials warned residents in Lahaina and neighboring town of Kula who have running water that it may be contaminated and that they should not drink it.
They also recommended to take only short, lukewarm showers “in a well-ventilated room” to avoid exposure to possible chemical vapors.
Was there any warning?
A deadly tsunami on the Big Island in 1946 prompted the development of a Hawaiian emergency system with sirens to warn of natural disasters and other threats.
However, many fire survivors said that they didn’t hear any sirens or receive a warning that gave them enough time to prepare. Some witnesses described their terror when the blaze consumed Lahaina in what seemed a matter of minutes.
“There was no warning. There was absolutely none. Nobody came around. We didn’t see a fire truck or anybody,” said Lynn Robinson, who lost her home in the fire.
Maui County Fire Chief Bradford Ventura said at a Thursday press conference that the fire’s speed made it “nearly impossible” for frontline responders to communicate with the emergency management officials.
The Lahaina evacuation was complicated by its coastal location next to hills. Several people were forced to leap into the Pacific Ocean to save themselves.
dh/lo (AP, Reuters)