Maui’s mayor says he wasn’t aware of deaths in Lahaina until morning after devastating blaze
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In a televised message Thursday, Maui Mayor Richard Bissen sought to defend his administration’s response to the devastating Lahaina wildfire, saying the county took quick action to deploy aid and understand the scope of the disaster.
But he acknowledged it took hours for his team to learn just how horrific the blaze was.
And in a particularly revealing detail, Bissen said he didn’t know there were any fatalities in Lahaina until the day after flames tore through the historic town. The death toll from the wildfire now stands at 115; many were killed as they attempted to flee the town.
“As the evening of the first day came, the horrific effects of the wildfire in Lahaina became apparent,” Bissen said, during his live address on public access television.
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“At that time, the degree and magnitude was still unknown as the situation unfolded.”
He added that while he knew emergency crews were battling the flames in treacherous conditions, he didn’t learn until the following day — the morning of Aug. 9 — that people had died in Lahaina.
That’s even though communications were coming in from first responders on the ground, Maui Memorial Medical Center was taking badly injured wildfire patients, and survivors were detailing the apocalyptic scenes they’d witnessed as they watched Lahaina burn.
“The realization that we had lost lives was devastating,” Bissen said, during his speech.
“There are no words that can adequately describe the depth of sadness, and the shock of realizing lives had been lost. It was difficult to fathom the magnitude of the destruction.”
Some are calling for Bissen to resign over Maui’s handling of the Lahaina blaze and its aftermath, the country’s deadliest wildfire in more than a century. Political analysts have also called on the administration to be upfront about what the mayor knew — and when.
In a news conference this week, Bissen said he was “not sure” who was in charge at Maui’s Emergency Operations Center on the day of the wildfire.
He also declined then to elaborate on his whereabouts as Lahaina burned.
In his address Thursday, Bissen said he did know that Maui’s emergency management administrator was in Waikiki for a conference on the day of the wildfire. He also said that he spent much of the day at the emergency operations center.
This story will be updated.
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