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Hawaii orders new rehabilitation policies, wildfire death toll at 96

An intense blaze that roared through Hawaii has killed about 93 people and authorities have issued new rehabilitation policies in the islands after the US nation’s largest wildfire tragedy.

HQ Team

August 14, 2023: An intense blaze that roared through Hawaii, the largest wildfire tragedy in the US since 1918, has killed about 96 people and authorities have issued new rehabilitation policies in the islands to speed up rescue and relief efforts.

 “As of now, 93 individuals have perished and the teams are, in an ongoing fashion, discovering other tragedies,” Josh Green, Governor of the State of Hawaii, said in a video message. “I do expect the numbers to rise.” A government advisory later from the Maui police updated the toll figure to 96.

According to the Pacific Disaster Center, as of August 11, 2023, damage assessments related to the Lahaina Fire resulted in an estimated total of 2,719 structures exposed, and 2,207 structures damaged or destroyed.

About 2,170 acres were burned and 86% of buildings exposed to the fire, which started on August 8, were classified as residential. The fires were fueled by Hurricane Dora, churning far south of the islands.

“Right now we need help to find those who have perished and it is ongoing,” Mr Green said. “As a physician, I can tell you that it is a harrowing sight in Maui.”

$5.6 billion loss

The estimated losses from the wildfires stood at $5.6 billion and a comprehensive review of what happened in the early hours of the fire and the hours thereafter has started, Mr Green said.

The focus of the review was to find out what could have been done to prevent such loss of life “to the best of our ability,” he said.

Loans and subsidies would be made available for the affected people in a bid to reconstruct their lives, he said.

There were several fires across Maui. “One fire had winds traveling at 81 miles per hour and the fire spread rapidly.

“The fire traveled one mile every minute resulting in the tragedy. At that level, the fire-hurricane is new to us,” he said. “After being to Lahaina, the ground zero twice…there is very little left there.”

Global warming

The global warming, was “the ultimate reason that so many people perished.”

 The response has been “comprehensive” and authorities are bringing the full force of the government, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, for rehabilitation work.

Urban search and rescue teams, military personnel, mortuary services, and aid agencies such as the Red Cross were working round-the-clock, Mr Green said.

Hawaii, an island state in the western US, has seen a spike in drought intensity since 2016, especially during the summers.

The US Drought Monitor, a service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, showed a spike this past summer in areas of Hawai‘i categorized as D2, which is a severe drought.

Every year about 0.5% of Hawaii’s total land area burns— equal to or greater than the proportion burned in any other US state.  Over 98% of wildfires were caused by humans.

The Camp Fire that erupted on November 8, 2018, in the Sierra Nevada foothills in California killed 85 people, destroyed nearly 19,000 homes, businesses and other buildings and virtually razed the town of Paradise — the biggest widfire incident before Hawaii burned. In 1918, 453 people died in the Cloquet fire in Minnesota and Wisconsin wildfires.

Emergency demolitions

A new list of curbs has prevented all “nonessential” travel to West Maui, prohibited price increases of essential commodities, allowed emergency demolitions, and placed stricter regulations on air, water, and noise pollution.

“We ask for a lot of understanding about traveling into the zone where the fire occurred,” said Governor Green. “The reason is the health consequences, the heavy metals … the recommendations are to avoid the structures because they could still fall on people and we’ve lost too much life already.”

“There are a lot of heavy metals and toxic in the dust.”

The government along with its federal partners have set up a Temporary Housing Task Force to secure 1,000 rooms.

Housing worries

“I think what people are most interested in is housing, how we’re going to house our people.

“Five hundred rooms will go to families that have been displaced because of the terrible fire, the other 500 rooms will go to support, initially …In the days that follow, we’ll have long-term rentals, those are the short-term rentals-turned-long-term. 

All of that is going to be covered, some by the state, some it’s going to be given charitably, and finally, FEMA will cover a great deal of the cost,” he said.

Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen said a vital factor in the recovery and rehabilitation process was the need to allow for the recovery of the victims.

“We’re not letting anybody into the impacted zone … It is not safe, it is a hazardous area, and that’s why experts are here,” he said. 

“We’re not doing anybody any favors by letting them back in there quickly, just so they can get sick. That can wait. A lot of what’s happening now is, we’re asking for the respect and dignity of recovering anyone who is still there … That’s the phase we’re in.

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