Survivors of the deadly Maui wildfires are beginning to return to the ruins. The death toll is likely to rise

LAHAINA, Hawaii (AP) — Dogs are trained to sniff through rubble and piles of ash to find bodies. Deadly wildfires It killed at least 80 people on the Hawaiian island of Maui.

Authorities scrambled Saturday to find temporary housing for more than 4,000 people as the staggering scope of the disaster became clear. Communications remained difficult, 30 cell towers were still offline, and power outages were expected in the western part of the island for several weeks, with some fires still under control as of late Friday. Meanwhile, officials have warned that the death toll could rise as search efforts continue.

Survivors of the fast-moving fire mourned the loss of their homes and belongings, but were thankful to be alive and counting their blessings.

Bill Wyland lives on the island of Oahu, but owns an art gallery Lahaina’s Historic Front StreetHaving burned the hair on the back of his neck, he fled on Tuesday by riding his motorcycle on empty pavements on his Harley Davidson to avoid the busy roads.

Riding a motorcycle through the air, he predicted he could reach speeds of at least 70 miles per hour (112 kilometers per hour), he passed a man on a bicycle who was frantically pedaling for his life.

“It’s something you might see in the Twilight Zone or a horror movie or something,” Weiland said.

Weiland realized how lucky he was when he returned to the town of Lahaina on Thursday after noticing others stranded or jumping into the ocean to escape the flames.

“It was devastating to see all the burnt cars. There was nothing standing,” he said.

His gallery was also destroyed along with the works of 30 artists.

Emergency managers on Maui were in the center of Lahaina, a town of 13,000, on Saturday assessing the extent of the damage and searching for places to shelter people displaced from their homes. County officials said on Facebook early Saturday that 4,500 people needed shelter, citing figures from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Pacific Disaster Center.

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Flyovers by the Civil Air Patrol found 1,692 structures destroyed – almost all of them residential. Officials previously said 2,719 structures were caught in the fire – more than 80% damaged or destroyed. Nine boats sank in Lahaina Harbor, authorities determined using sonar.

Maui County raised the number of confirmed deaths to 80 Friday night, and Governor Josh Green warned that the number could rise. Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen Jr. said cadaver-sniffing dogs were sent out to search for the dead.

The wildfires are the state’s worst natural disaster in decades, surpassing the 1960 tsunami that killed 61 people. Even more dangerous was the 1946 tsunami that killed more than 150 people on the Big Island, prompting the creation of a territory-wide emergency system with sirens that are tested monthly.

Many fire survivors said they didn’t hear any sirens or receive warnings given enough time to prepare before they realized they were in danger. Saw flames or heard explosions.

“There was no warning,” said Lynn Robinson, who lost her home.

Hawaii emergency management records do not indicate warning sirens sounded before people ran for their lives. Officials sent alerts to cellphones, televisions and radio stations, but widespread power outages and cellular outages may have limited their reach.

Attorney General Anne Lopez announced plans to conduct a comprehensive review of decision-making and policies affecting the response to deadly wildfires.

A as fuel Dry summer and strong winds from a A passing stormWildfires on Maui ran through the dry brush covering the island.

The most intense fire broke out in Lahaina on Tuesday and left behind a grid of gray rubble between the blue ocean and lush green slopes. Associated Press journalists found that the disaster included every building on Main Street, the heart of historic Lahaina and Maui’s economic center.

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There was a strange traffic jam of burning cars that didn’t escape the inferno as the surviving roosters writhed in the ashes. Skeletons of buildings bent under roofs and burned. The palm trees were burnt and the boats in the harbor were charred and smelled.

“It hit so quickly, it’s unbelievable,” Kyle Scharnhorst said as he surveyed his damaged apartment complex.

According to disaster and risk modeling firm Karen Clark & ​​Company, the wildfires are already projected to be the second costliest disaster in Hawaii’s history behind Hurricane Iniki in 1992. Fatalities after fires in the United States 2018 Camp Fire In California, it killed at least 85 people and devastated the city of Paradise.

Maui’s danger is well known. Maui County’s Hazard Reduction Plan, updated in 2020, identified Lahaina and other West Maui communities as being at risk from frequent wildfires and many buildings. The report noted that West Maui had the island’s second-highest rate of households without a vehicle and the highest rate of non-English speakers.

“This can limit the population’s ability to receive, understand and take rapid action during risk events,” the plan said.

Maui’s firefighting efforts may have been hampered by limited personnel and equipment.

Hawaii Firefighters Association President Bobby Lee said there are a maximum of 65 district firefighters working for the three islands of Maui, Molokai and Lanai at any given time.

The department has about 13 fire engines and two ladder trucks, but no off-road vehicles to fully attack brush fires before they reach roads or residential areas, he said.

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Maui water officials warned Kula and Lahaina residents not to drink running water, which may still be contaminated after boiling, and to take only short, dull showers in well-ventilated rooms to avoid exposure to chemical vapors.

Lahaina resident Lana Vierra fled Tuesday, but she knew the home where she raised her five children, but treasured items including baby pictures and yearbooks were missing.

“To really stand your ground and set your wheels in motion on how to move forward — I think that brings peace to families,” he said.

Riley Curran said she escaped from her Front Street home by climbing onto a neighboring building to get a better look. He doubts county officials could have done more given the speed of the fire.

“It’s not that people aren’t trying to do anything,” Curran said. “The fire went from zero to 100.”

Curran said California has seen wildfires grow.

But, he added, “I’ve never seen a whole city eaten in four hours.”

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Kelleher reported from Honolulu. Associated Press writers Rebecca Boone in Boise, Idaho; Andrew Selsky in Bend, Oregon; Bobby Kaina Galvan and Beatrice Dupuy in New York; Chris Megarion in Salt Lake City; Audrey McAvoy in Wailuku, Hawaii; Adam Beam in Sacramento, California; Seth Borenstein in Washington; and Brittany Peterson in Denver contributed.

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