Number of Missing People at 66 One Month After Deadly Hawaii Wildfires, Governor Says

Wim De Gent
By Wim De Gent
September 9, 2023US News
Number of Missing People at 66 One Month After Deadly Hawaii Wildfires, Governor Says
Hawaii Gov. Josh Green speaks to the media, in Honolulu, on Sept. 8, 2023. (Audrey McAvoy/AP Photo)

A month after ferocious wildfires began raging on the island of Maui, 66 people remain unaccounted for as workers continue cleaning up the debris, Gov. Josh Green said in a press conference on Friday.

“The FBI has reported that 66 of our people are potentially still unaccounted for, based on calls and emails they’ve received,” Mr. Green said, down from 385 last week.

He also urged friends and families to share more information about their missing loved ones with the Maui Police Department. “In many cases, they only have names of these individuals on a list and no other information,” the governor said.

The official death toll of the Aug. 8 fire that struck the historic town of Lahaina has stalled at 115 for over two weeks. Of the 115, only 60 have been identified as of Thursday, according to the Maui Police Department.

Officials have said that some victims may have been entirely cremated due to the intensity of the fires, leaving no remains to recover or identify. A final death toll will likely be uncertain.

Mr. Green said donations from around the world have poured in to the American Red Cross, the Hawaii Community Foundation, the Maui United Way, and other organizations. In addition, $100 million in aid from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program has been authorized, as the government makes another $25 million available in grants to help businesses survive.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is also helping the state with housing grants and rental assistance for displaced people for the next 18 months.

“Since August 16, the American Red Cross, the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency and FEMA have relocated over 7,500 displaced survivors from shelters to a total of 29 hotels and hundreds of Airbnbs,” Mr. Green said.

“In the coming weeks we’ll begin to schedule supervised visits for displaced people to return and view their property under safe conditions,” he added, which will allow people to survey the damage and file insurance claims.

However, Mr. Green added: “The ash, we are told, is quite toxic, so we need to be careful.”

Currently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) assisted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are busy removing hazardous materials from affected areas, a process that will take another three to four months. After that, the removal of the non-toxic debris will begin.

“To be clear, people will get in soon,” Mr. Green said, warning that the clean-up may take “the better part of a year.”

The governor also declared that, except for the disaster-stricken area of West Maui, all other areas of Maui, as well as the rest of Hawaii, are considered safe and are open to visitors.

“We invite everyone to travel to our state today, which will support the local economy and help speed the recovery of those who have already suffered so much.”

Travel restrictions to West Maui will be lifted on Oct. 8, the governor said.

“If we support Maui’s economy and keep our people employed, they will heal faster and continue to afford to live on Maui.”

As for the rebuilding of the famous tourist destination, no concrete plans have yet been made.

“The people of Maui must have as much time as they need to heal and recover and will begin to rebuild only when they are ready,” the governor said, emphasizing, “The land in the Lahaina is reserved for its people as they return and rebuild.”

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