Two Hawaii Army National Guard CH47 Chinook perform aerial water bucket drops in Maui to assist in the fight against wildfires, across the Island of Maui, Hawaii, on Wednesday. On Thursday, officials said the death toll of 53 was expected to rise. Photo by MSgt. Andrew Jackson/USAF/U.S. National Guard/UPI | License Photo
Aug. 11 (UPI) — The death toll from ongoing wildfires that have devastated the Hawaii island of Maui is expected to further climb as officials comb through the ashes of what was the historic city of Lahaina.
Fifty-three people are confirmed dead, but officials repeatedly asked the public during a press conference Thursday for patience as they search through Lahaina for remains. The number of missing was also unknown.
The city, located along the western shore of Maui, is a burnt husk of its former self. Gov. Josh Green said it looked like a bomb had gone off. And when stock is taken it will likely be consider the worst natural disaster in the state’s history, he said.
“It’s all gone,” said Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen, referring to the core of the city. “None of it’s there. It’s all burnt to the ground.”
When asked to elaborate on the extent of the damage, police chief John Pelletier said it’s going to to take time to get numbers but it’s “all gone.”
“When the mayor said it’s all gone, it’s all gone. It’s all gone. It’s gone,” he said.
The first fire ignited on Maui shortly after early Tuesday. At 11 a.m., the second fire in Lahaina began. About an hour later, the third fire ignited in Kula with a fourth starting in the central valley at about 6 p.m. The fires have forced thousands to evacuate.
Fire chief Brad Ventura told reporters that as of Thursday afternoon, none of them were 100% contained.
President Joe Biden has declared Hawaii a major disaster, making available federal resources to the state that will include individual FEMA grants, rental aid support and support for small businesses.
Green said he intends to initially secure some 2,000 rooms for those in need of shelter, and they are reaching out to hotels but also people in the community.
“If you have additional space in your home, if you have the capacity to take someone in from west Maui, please do,” he said.
Hundreds of homes in Lahaina have been destroyed, he said, explaining it is going to take “a great deal of time” to recover.
“All of those buildings, virtually, are going to have to be rebuilt,” he said. “It’s going to be a new Lahaina that Maui builds in its own image.”
U.S. Senator Brian Schatz explained that the task ahead of them is not being underestimated.
“This is going to be a long period of recovery,” he said. “But we will rebuild.”
Efforts are still in the firefighting phase, and soon officials will move to recovery and rebuilding.
Right now, Pelletier is asking the public for patience, prayers and perseverance as they work to confirm the number of dead.
“Lahaina town is hallowed sacred ground right now,” he said.
“We have to respect that we have loved ones in that earth and we’ve got to do the right thing and get them out the right way. That’s going to take time.”
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