The death toll from a wildfire that devastated the Lahaina region of Maui Island in Hawaii, U.S. has reached 93, with homes and historical sites consumed by the blaze.
As authorities mount relief efforts, questions are being asked about the supposed failure of Hawaii’s robust early-warning system to raise the alarm.
Most severe blaze in a century
The New York Times reported that brush fires were burning on Maui on Aug. 8, which intensified due to a combination of low humidity and strong winds from Hurricane Dora, a huge storm in the Pacific Ocean to the south of the island.
Experts speculated that the brush fires could have been sparked by falling power lines.
Severe drought conditions also contributed to the spread and growth of the wildfires.
It spread to Lahaina and damaged over 2,200 buildings, most of which were residential. Historical landmarks such as the 122-year-old Pioneer Inn and the Waiola Congregational Church were destroyed, while a 150-year-old banyan tree and the iconic Lahaina Harbor were severely damaged.
This is what it looked like earlier on Maui. If you’ve been to my hometown of Lahaina…I fear it is no longer. I dread what it will look like in the morning. An apocalyptic scene is unfolding due to the fires raging across my island. Please pray for us. pic.twitter.com/88V2kjjpyV
— HawaiiDelilah™ 🟦 #MauiStrong (@HawaiiDelilah) August 9, 2023
Passenger captures devastating scenes from the wildfires in Lahaina, Hawaii. pic.twitter.com/7C2XqexNE0
— Breaking Aviation News & Videos (@aviationbrk) August 10, 2023
Relief efforts are underway, including personnel from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Hawaii state National Guard. Refugees are being housed by friends and neighbours, with a hotline set up to connect those seeking shelter with available hotel rooms.
U.S. President Joe Biden has declared a federal disaster and promised to send whatever aid is needed.
Early warning system
Due to its experience with various natural disasters, Hawaii has in place early warning systems to alert residents of impending danger.
However, according to the Associated Press (AP), Maui County officials failed to activate sirens that would have warned the entire population. Instead, they sent out “confusing” social media posts that reached a smaller segment of the population.
Power and cellular network outages contributed to the communications breakdown.
While alerts were sent about the brushfires, “it shows no indication that county officials ever activated the region’s all-hazard siren system, and reveals other emergency alerts were scarce”, AP stated.
Anne Lopez, the Attorney-General of Hawaii, said that her office will conduct a “comprehensive review” of the decision-making processes and standing policies around the brushfires.
Top image via @Mahmood88239370 and @ChaudharyParvez/Twitter.