The official number of known deaths from this week’s wildfires in Maui has now reached 80, local officials told reporters on Friday night. “Firefighters continue working to extinguish flare-ups and contain fires in Lahaina, Pulehu/Kihei and Upcountry Maui,” a press release said, as some residents are already attempting to move back into the devastated town.
Police are restricting access into West Maui through both Maʻalaea and Waiheʻe. Honoapiʻilani Highway is open for vehicles leaving Lahaina. The burned historic Lahaina town area remains barricaded, with people warned to stay out of the area due to hazards including toxic particles from smoldering areas.
Speaking with CNN’s Amara Walker on CNN This Morning on Saturday, Rep. Jill Tokuda (D-Hawaii) said the state “underestimated the lethality, the quickness of fire,” and failed to plan for redundancies in its emergency alert system.
Tokuda said these days, emergency alerts are received on cell phones, but that there was no cell phone coverage in the area at the time.
“It’s not like hurricane force winds are unknown to Hawaii, or dry brush, or red flag conditions. We saw this before in (Hurricane) Lane. We did not learn our lesson from Lane (in 2018) — that brush fires could erupt as a result of churning hurricane winds below us to the south,” Tokuda said. “We have got to make sure that we do better.”
No outdoor warning sirens were triggered by local or state emergency agencies.
“Neither Maui nor HI-EMA activated warning sirens on Maui during the wildfire incident,” Hawaii Emergency Services Administration said Friday.
Instead, residents had to rely on three other forms of emergency warnings: alerts sent to mobile devices, to local radio and television stations and via Maui County’s opt-in resident notification system.
Cell phone service was cut off during the fire, but it is not clear whether residents had cell phone emergency alerts before the fire got out of control.
Power and cell service is on Maui slowly coming back after the fires cut off communication for many residents, reports say, but nearly 11,000 were still without power in Maui as of 10.15am local time, according to PowerOutage.US.
Sources: CNN, news agencies.