The death toll in Maui is climbing and has now surpassed 100, according to local officials. This is expected to continue to increase as rescue efforts unfold and search and rescue teams dig deeper into the wreckage left behind by fires in the worst natural disaster to hit Hawaii in a century, and the deadliest in the US since the California wildfires of 2018.
Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said around a third of the area affected had been searched by rescue teams by August 16, adding that he is praying the death toll doesn’t rise and rise. “We are prepared for many tragic stories. They will find 10 to 20 people per day, probably, until they finish. And it’s probably going to take ten days. It’s impossible to guess, really,” Green said on August 14.
The fires began on August 8, and the origin is not fully understood. Blazes took root in the Upcountry and Kihei regions, while a separate fire broke out in Lahaina some hours later. This was initially said to be contained, but fate appeared to intervene and as flames blazed in the city, a hurricane also came to life, carrying the fire across the region and inflicting devastation.
The flames destroyed more than 2,200 buildings and over 2,000 acres of land.
President Biden, initially criticized for ignoring the unfolding tragedy, more recently said that he and the First Lady intend to visit the state as soon as possible. During a speech in Milwaukee, Biden appeared to forget the name of Maui, the island most affected. “The army helicopters helped fire suppression and efforts in the Big Island. Because there’s still some burning on the Big Island, not the one, not the one where you see on television all the time,” he said.
In another blow to Hawaiian residents, the state’s emergency warning system, tested every month, was not turned on and failed to alert Hawaii’s communities of the swelling blazes.