Hawaii Fires Death Count Up To 93 And Rising, While Questions Are Asked About The Silence Of The Sirens.

Photo credit: Matthew Thayer/The Maui News. This photo of a burning house captures the intensity of last week's fire.
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The official death count for the fire that destroyed the town of Lahaina on the Hawaiian island of Maui has now risen to 93, and local officials have warned that the aftermath of the fire had left a “highly toxic” environment and that the water supply in the area may also be undrinkable due to contamination.

Hawaii governor Josh Green said at least 2,200 buildings were destroyed in the fire, nearly all of which were houses and apartment buildings, and that the total value of the damages could be something like $6 billion.

“It’s an impossible day,” Green told AP News on Saturday, as he toured Lahaina. “It will certainly be the worst natural disaster that Hawaii ever faced.” He said that the focus right now was on using cadaver dogs to identify as many of the dead as possible.

Because large numbers of people are classified as “missing” it may be impossible to ever get to an accurate tally of the number of deaths.

The Hawaii health department said people returning should wear respirator masks and goggles. Ash and dust from burned buildings could contain contaminants including asbestos, arsenic, and lead, the department said.

They also warned about ash pits. “Ash pits are holes full of hot ashes, created by burned trees and stumps. Falling into ash pits or landing in them with your hands or feet can cause serious burns.”

CNN has provided extensive coverage of the disaster and recently published the following information:

According to research from the National Fire Protection Association, the fire in Lahaina is the fifth deadliest in US history and the worst since the 1918 Cloquet fire in Minnesota. But officials warn the figure is expected to rise further still. “None of us really know the size of it yet,” Maui Police Chief John Pelletier said.

The fires have displaced thousands of people. A total of 1,418 people are at emergency evacuation shelters, according to Maui County officials. At least 1,000 rooms have been secured for support staff and those displaced by the Lahaina fires. Long-term housing solutions are being sought.

Hawaii Attorney General Anne Lopez will lead a comprehensive review of officials’ response to the catastrophic wildfires. “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 in a statement.

In the hours before a wildfire engulfed the town of Lahaina, Maui County officials failed to activate sirens that would have warned the entire population of the approaching flames and instead relied on a series of sometimes confusing social media posts that reached a much smaller audience.

Power and cellular outages for residents further stymied communication efforts. Radio reports were scarce, some survivors reported, even as the blaze began to consume the town. Road blocks then forced fleeing drivers onto one narrow downtown street, creating a bottleneck that was quickly surrounded by flames on all sides.

But while the Lahaina fire was spreading, Maui County and Hawaii Emergency Management Agency officials were making other urgent announcements — including a Facebook post about additional evacuations near the Upcountry fire and an announcement that the acting governor had issued an emergency proclamation.

The fast-moving inferno, which started on Tuesday, spread from the brush outside of town and ravaged Lahaina. It was one of three major wildfires on Maui, all of them still burning, that were fuelled by dry conditions, a buildup of fuel, and 100 kilometres per hour (60 miles per hour) wind.

The precise moment the fire started and the immediate cause will probably never be identified.

Sources: The Guardian, CNN, Maui News, BBC, news agencies.



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