Death Toll Surpasses 100 in Maui Wildfires as Military Provides Aid

Mimi Nguyen Ly
By Mimi Nguyen Ly
August 16, 2023US News
Death Toll Surpasses 100 in Maui Wildfires as Military Provides Aid
A sign made with spray paint seeks to inspire motorists on Route 30 heading into the fire-ravaged town of Lahaina, Maui, on Aug. 16, 2023. (Allan Stein/The Epoch Times)

The death toll due to fires that tore through Lahaina, Maui, has risen from 99 to 106 on Tuesday as the military continues to provide ongoing disaster relief assistance for the wildfires which are the deadliest in U.S. modern history.

“We are heartsick that we’ve had such loss,” Hawaii Gov Josh Green said in a Tuesday afternoon video address as the death toll surpassed 100. He previously noted the death toll could double or triple as more bodies are found.

The governor asked for patience as authorities became overwhelmed with requests to visit the burn area.

“We know that it’s frustrating,” Mr. Green said. “Stage 0 is getting through all the properties where those who have passed are. When we get out of that, we’ll be able to open the road completely, which will make everything a lot easier.”

Once a thriving, green area home to more than 12,000 people, Lahaina now looks like a barren wasteland. It was where the main fire broke out on the island, starting on Aug. 8. Several other fires had also broken out in Maui.

The causes of the fires are undetermined and remain under investigation.

The fire in Lahaina has been 85 percent contained, according to the county in an update on Tuesday morning.

Another blaze known as the upcountry fire was 60 percent contained. The Pulehu/Kihei fire remains 100 percent contained, and the Puʻukoliʻi/Kaʻanapali fire remains extinguished.

Crews using cadaver dogs have searched through about 32 percent of the overall burn area, according to Maui County on Tuesday. Maui Police Chief John Pelletier said crews aim to cover 85-90 percent of the area by the weekend.

Also on Tuesday, a mobile morgue unit from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services arrived to help Hawaii officials to identify the victims and process their remains.

Jonathan Greene, the agency’s deputy assistant secretary for response, said the team includes coroners, pathologists, and technicians, along with equipment such as exam tables and X-ray units.

“It’s going to be a very, very difficult mission,” Mr. Greene said. “And patience will be incredibly important because of the number of victims.”

NTD Photo
Hawaii Gov. Josh Green speaks during a press conference about the destruction of historic Lahaina and the aftermath of wildfires in western Maui in Wailuku, Hawaii, on Aug. 10, 2023. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

Children are among the victims of the fires, the Hawaii governor acknowledged on Tuesday during an appearance on Hawaii News Now.

“When the bodies are smaller, we know it’s a child,” Mr. Green said. “There was a car, we know, for example, that had four people in it. It was obviously a family of four and two children in the back seat.”

Three bodies have been identified. “Currently, we have identified three individuals who are pending next of kin notification,” the county announced on Tuesday. “At the time of this release, there have been 106 human remains recovered, awaiting identification.”

In the announcement, the names of two of the identified people were released—Robert Dyckman, 74, and Buddy Jantoc, 79, both from Lahaina.

Maui wildfires
An aerial image shows destroyed homes and buildings on the waterfront burned to the ground in Lahaina in the aftermath of wildfires in western Maui, Hawaii, on Aug. 10, 2023. (Patrick Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

Military Provide Disaster Relief Assistance

On the same day, deputy Pentagon press secretary Sabrina Singh shared details on the various ongoing assistance efforts from the U.S. military.

The Hawaii National Guard has activated about 258 Army National Guard and Air National Guard personnel to help respond to the fires, she said at a press conference.

“This includes liaison support to the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, command and control elements, and support to local law enforcement.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is helping to remove debris and temporarily restore power.

According to Ms. Singh, the corps has so far deployed 27 personnel, comprising both active duty members and civilians, as well as 41 contractor personnel. There are also 14 personnel who are providing virtual support from off-site locations.

NTD Photo
Members of the U.S. National Guard stand on a closed road in Lahaina, western Maui, Hawaii, on Aug. 12, 2023. (Yuki Iwamura/AFP via Getty Images)

As for the Coast Guard, Ms. Singh said they have pivoted to minimizing any environmental impact on the ocean but are still ready to help if there are any reports of people in the water.

All up, there are about 140 Coast Guard members involved in the response effort in Maui.

Ms. Singh noted that the Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team Honolulu and the Coast Guard National Strike Force have established a safety zone extending one nautical mile seaward from the shoreline.

They’ve also deployed pollution response teams and equipment to the affected locations to contain any potentially hazardous contaminants and material, Ms. Singh said. Such equipment includes a 100-foot boom at the mouth of Lahaina Harbor.

The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency had stated that local authorities didn’t trigger the siren system to warn residents of the wildfires, which took the vast majority by surprise.

Addressing this on Tuesday, the governor said, “Having lived on the shoreline for a long time, I know that sirens usually mean tsunami alerts, prompting people to move upcountry. While I’m in favor of warning systems, it’s more intricate than it appears.”

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President Joe Biden speaks to guests at Ingeteam Inc., an electrical equipment manufacturer in Milwaukee, Wis., on Aug. 15, 2023. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Biden Promises to Visit Maui

President Joe Biden on Tuesday promised he and first lady Jill Biden would visit the site as soon as they could.

“I don’t want to get in the way; I’ve been to too many disaster areas,” President Biden said while delivering remarks in Milwaukee on Tuesday. “But I want to go, make sure we’ve got everything they need. Want to be sure we don’t disrupt the ongoing recovery efforts.”

He also said he had contacted Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Deanne Criswell to discuss the ongoing federal response efforts.

To date, FEMA has provided affected residents with 50,000 meals, 75,000 liters of water, 10,000 blankets, 500 beds, and other supplies.

The agency has also authorized one-time payments of $700 per household to those impacted and activated its transitional sheltering assistance program to temporarily house displaced families in approved hotels and motels.

Pledging to continue coordinating with local officials, the president added that his “thoughts and prayers” were with the people of Hawaii.

“But not just our prayers. Every asset, every asset they need will be there for them. And we will be there in Maui as long as it takes. As long as it takes—I mean that sincerely.”

Samantha Flom and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

From The Epoch Times

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