The ongoing search for victims of thein more than a century continued in earnest Tuesday on the Hawaiian island of Maui. At least 106 people have been confirmed dead in the blaze that destroyed most of the historic port town of Lahaina — one of several fires that broke out in Maui on Aug. 8 — but hundreds more remain missing.
Speaking Tuesday at an event in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, President Bidenall federal resources were being made available to Hawaii.
“Every asset they need will be there for them,” Mr. Biden said. “And we’ll be there in Maui as long as it takes.”
Mr. Biden said that his administration is “surging federal personnel” to Maui to “help the brave firefighters and first responders, many of whom lost their own homes, their properties, while they’re out busting their neck to save other people.”
The president said he and first lady Jill Biden plan to travel to Hawaii “as soon as we can.”
More than 400 FEMA have already deployed to island, Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said in an address Tuesday afternoon, along with another 273 National Guard soldiers.
At least 27% of the burn area has been canvassed by search and rescue personnel with 20 cadaver dogs, Green said.
About 500 hotel rooms have been made available, Green said, with 331 displaced residents already staying in those rooms. The governor added that the state had also set up an Airbnb program with 1,000 available rooms or houses that will be covered by FEMA for use by both evacuees and first responders.
The goal, Green said, is for displaced residents ‘to be able to leave these shelters and go into stable housing, which is going to take a very long time.”
The Department of Health and Human Services has also deployed about 75 personnel, along with a victim identification team, according to Jonathan Greene, deputy assistant secretary director for the HHS Office of Response.
Approximately 3,400 residents have already registered with FEMA for economic assistance, Keith Turi, FEMA deputy associate administrator for response and recovery, told reporters.
What we know about the victims of the Lahaina fire
Just five of the victims have been positively identified, according to Maui County officials. Only two of the families have been notified, the officials added, so only those two names have been made public, both Lahaina men in their seventies. Another 13 DNA profiles have been obtained from victims, police said, and 41 DNA profiles have been obtained from family members of the missing.
Along with the 106 bodies already recovered, Greenthat about 1,300 people remain unaccounted for.
According to 2020 census data, the Lahaina community had a population of about 12,700. Maui’s overall population was at about 165,000.
This marks the deadliest U.S. fire since 1918, when the Cloquet and Moose Lake fires in Minnesota and Wisconsin claimed the lives of 453 people, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
How many structures have been destroyed?
At least 2,200 buildings have been destroyed or damaged in the Lahaina fire, according to preliminary numbers released over the weekend by the University of Hawaii’s Pacific Disaster Center. About 86% of those are residential.
The Hawaiian Electric Company, the utility provider for 95% of Hawaii, reported that about 2,000 homes and businesses were still without power. Maui officials stressed that number does not include the more than 2,000 structures estimated to have been destroyed.
The Hawaii State Department of Health was asking those who have been allowed to return to Lahaina to exercise caution due to toxic ash and chemicals such as asbestos, arsenic, lead and debris. Many residents have expressed frustration at not being able to access their homes.
“The fact that they’re making it difficult for us to go back to where we’re from,” said Annastaceya Arcangel-Pang, who lost her home in the fire. “It’s just hard and unbelievable. I mean, I still have loved ones that are trapped.”
CBS News has learned that several victims have been found in the rubble by their own families. The Tone and Takafua family found four of their family members — including a 7-year-old girl — inside a burned-out car.
How much of Maui has burned?
The three wildfires which broke out Aug. 8 have so far burned an estimated 4.45 square miles, according to Maui officials. Two of the three fires are still burning, with dozens of firefighters working by ground and air to build containment lines and monitor for any hot spots and flare-ups.
The Lahaina fire, by far the largest of the three at 3.39 square miles, was 85% contained Tuesday.
The Upcountry/Kula fire, which has burned just over a square mile, was 65% contained. It has destroyed 19 homes, including the home of Sweethart Mori in Kula.
Mori told CBS News Tuesday she and her family safely escaped.
“We fortunately got out alive before the fire came,” Mori said.
The Pulehu/Kihei fire was fully contained over the weekend.
Maui natives fear being priced out
Mori also discussed a common fear, which had predated the fire, of longtime Maui natives being priced out of the island by developers and wealthy out-of-state buyers. She said her family plans to stay and rebuild.
“This is my land,” Mori said. We from here. This is my country. So I cannot go anywhere. You know, I think about moving to the USA because it’s so expensive over here. But where I going? I don’t belong there.”
Greenthat he would try to restrict land purchases on Maui by out-of-state buyers while the island recovers from the fires.
“I will try to allow no one from outside our state to buy any land until we get through this crisis and decide what Lahaina should be in the future,” Green said.
On Tuesday, the governor announced that he had asked Hawaii Attorney General Anne Lopez to “watch for predatory practices.” He said that the state would also be “embedding” pro bono attorneys to provide legal advice to local residents who are approached by potential buyers.
“What is also of fundamental importance to us is protecting the land,” Green said. “Protecting the land for our local people…So that it’s not stolen by people on the mainland.”
Green disclosed that in a conversation about the issue with superstar Dwayne Johnson, a Hawaii native, Johnson also shared with Green “his desire to see this land stay in the hands of the people.”
How did the Maui wildfires start?
The cause of the wildfires. Local government agencies have been under intense scrutiny for their actions as the Lahaina fire was spreading.
According to a timeline provided by Maui County, a three-acre brush fire was first reported near Lahaina Intermediate School just after 6:30 a.m. local time on the morning of Aug. 8. About two hours later, a little before 9 a.m., the fire was declared 100% contained.
With powerful wind gusts from Hurricane Dora hitting the island, four West Maui schools were then closed due to hazardous conditions, according to the Hawaii Department of Education.
Then, at approximately 3:30 p.m., the fire — which had been previously reported as fully contained — flared up and suddenly exploded with help from Dora’s 60 mph winds. None of the emergency sirens on the island were activated as the fire spread, and with power cut off, Lahaina residents said they received no text alerts.
Many were caught completely off guard and with barely enough time to escape the flames.
“It was a kind of fear and panic that I have never experienced before in my life,” Lahaina resident Kawena Kahula told CBS News.
Kahula said that with no evacuation alert, she followed a line of cars towards what she thought would be safety, but instead, “willingly, unknowingly, blindly headed into the fire.”
“I didn’t know until there was big black mushroom clouds of smoke, continuing to stock up on each other bigger and bigger,” Kahula said.
Problems cascaded after the blaze erupted. Fire crews had no water pressure due to water-damaged pipes which had leaked and ran dry, a utility official told CBS News.
Lopez said Friday that the state attorney general’s office would conduct a “comprehensive review of critical decision-making and standing policies leading up to, during, and after the wildfires.”
Green said Monday that the investigation aims “not to find fault in anyone but to say why this worked and this didn’t work.”
— Norah O’Donnell, Jonathan Vigliotti, Lilia Luciano, Emily Mae Czachor and Jordan Freiman contributed to this report.
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