Maui wildfires death toll rises, Lahaina recovery begins

Burned houses and buildings are seen in Lahaina, Hawaii, on Saturday.
Burned houses and buildings are seen in Lahaina, Hawaii, on Saturday. Yuki Iwamura/AFP via Getty Images

Crews in west Maui are still sifting through the ashes of what used to be homes and beloved landmarks wiped out by the deadliest US wildfire in more than 100 years – and the death toll continues to rise.

Here’s what you need to know Monday:

Death toll is expected to keep rising: There have been 96 confirmed deaths from the fire, officials said in an update Sunday night local time. And there are still people unaccounted for as search teams with cadaver dogs look for remains in decimated neighborhoods.

Identifying all the victims won’t be easy: Dozens of victims were found dead across the burn area, but only two people had been identified as of Saturday, according to Maui County. “We have to do rapid DNA to identify everyone,” Maui Police Chief John Pelletier said Saturday, urging those with missing family members to contact authorities to coordinate a DNA test to assist in the identification process.

The wildfires burned down residences and businesses: Around 2,200 structures have been destroyed or damaged in western Maui, where the hard-hit historic town of Lahaina is located, according to Gov. Josh Green. About 86% of the structures were residential, he added.

Struggle to house displaced residents and tourists: The devastation has displaced thousands of people, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell estimated. As of Friday night, a total of 1,418 people were at emergency evacuation shelters, according to Maui County officials. Teams are working to get displaced Lahaina residents into temporary homes, with more than 500 hotel rooms already obtained with government subsidies, Green said Sunday.

Warning sirens were not activated: As the deadly fires spread rapidly into neighborhoods, the largest siren system in the world was silent. Emergency communications with residents were largely limited to mobile phones and broadcasters at a time when most power and cell service was already cut. “There were multiple fires at the same time, and the circumstance was greatly complicated also by the heat and the speed with which the fire spread, destroying a great deal of infrastructure,” Green said Saturday when asked about why sirens weren’t heard.

Hawaii’s main electric provider sued: A lawsuit claims electrified power lines blown over by high winds helped to cause the destructive Lahaina wildfire. The complaint was filed Saturday against Hawaiian Electric Industries and three subsidiaries, including the power utility that services Maui. Mayor Bissen acknowledged Thursday that power lines that were “still energized” had fallen on the roads, but the new lawsuit does not state exactly how the power lines allegedly caused the wildfire. An official cause of the wildfire has not yet been determined.

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