Death toll in Lahaina wildfire rises to 99 with hundreds still unaccounted for
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The death toll in the fire-ravaged town of Lahaina rose to 99 on Monday as Maui’s police chief said 75% of the hardest-hit areas had not yet been searched.
Meanwhile, MPD Chief John Pelletier announced the county would begin the painful process of releasing the identities of those who have died. The identities of three people have been confirmed so far, though family members have reported their own deaths based on eyewitness sightings.
“Right now we’re at 99 souls, families,” Pelletier said, adding that 20 cadaver dogs are now on the ground with search teams looking for remains.
“We’re going to do this right.”
President Joe Biden gave his remarks on the “whole-on-government” response effort underway in Maui during a live event in Milwaukee, Wisconsin Tuesday morning.
Biden says he and the first lady will come to Maui as soon as possible, but won’t disrupt ongoing recovery efforts.
“It’s painstaking work, it takes time, it’s nerve-racking,” Biden said. “Most of the debris can’t be removed until it’s done.”
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Hawaii. Every asset they need will be there for them.”
Gov. Josh Green confirmed Tuesday in an interview on Hawaii News Now Sunrise, recovery efforts have found children among the Lahaina fire victims. He says it’s one of the reason why officials are asking for patience as they go into “ground zero.”
“When the bodies are smaller, we know it’s a child. There was a car for example that had 4 people in it. It was obviously a family of 4, 2 children in the backseat. We see some of theses settings where its a group of 7 in a house and you know it’s children,” Green recalled.
“Some of the sites are too much to share or to see from just a human perspective and we don’t want to disrupt any of the recovery,” he added.
At a news conference Monday, Green said that in addition to the recovery efforts, work is underway to transition residents out of evacuation shelters and into hotels and vacation rentals.
He said about 2,000 housing units have been secured.
Green also pledged that at least 36 weeks of housing would be provided.
“The scale of destruction is incredible,” Green said, adding the recovery will take time.
HECO crews are also working to restore power to West Maui and make significant repairs to the grid. Officials said about 400 of 750 power poles in West Maui have been damaged or destroyed.
Additionally, more than 300 transformers need major repairs.
With hundreds of people unaccounted for on Maui, federal authorities are still calling their response in Lahaina a search-and-rescue operation.
As the search for missing loved ones continues, federal authorities believe that significant issues with communication may still be prohibiting some people from re-connecting with their families.
The Red Cross is assisting in reunification efforts and the county has established a resource center so people can report loved ones missing and provide DNA samples for possible identification.
A Red Cross spokesperson said the agency has received more than 2,500 calls from people looking for loved ones. About 800 of those cases have been resolved.
Meanwhile, thousands of evacuees remain in shelters on Maui. FEMA says about 3,000 people have registered so far for disaster assistance, which includes cash aid.
FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, who is on Maui, spoke at a White House briefing on Monday to encourage evacuees to seek FEMA disaster assistance. Assistance checks of $700 are available for evacuees to help cover the costs of food, water and medical supplies. There are also additional aid programs for property loss. Details can be found at disasterassistance.gov.
“As residents mourn the loss of their friends, their loved ones, their neighbors, the loss of their homes and their way of life, we want to let them know that we are mourning with them,” Criswell said. “Nothing can prepare them for the emotional toll ... this severe event has taken on them.”
FEMA is also administering the Transitional Shelter Assistance Program, which enables survivors to stay in hotels for a limited amount of time as government works to develop a housing plan.
FEMA pays for these hotel rooms — so there’s no out of pocket expenses for survivors.
For details on how to apply, click here.
Copyright 2023 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.