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Death toll from Maui wildfires climbs to 80, county officials say

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  • VIDEO BY AP

    Hundreds of people are staying in shelters after the destructive wildfire that swept through Lahaina. Some are telling their stories of how they got out.

  • VIDEO BY AP

    Aerial footage of Lahaina on Thursday showed street after street reduced to gray and black rubble. Though pockets of wispy smoke remained, no active flames were visible from the air.

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Devastation from this week’s wildfires was seen along Honoapiilani Highway Thursday.

    CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Devastation from this week’s wildfires was seen along Honoapiilani Highway Thursday.

  • RICK BOWMER / ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                A man takes photos of burnt out cars lining the sea wall Friday after Tuesday’s wildfire that incinerated Lahaina.

    RICK BOWMER / ASSOCIATED PRESS

    A man takes photos of burnt out cars lining the sea wall Friday after Tuesday’s wildfire that incinerated Lahaina.

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                A person documents the aftermath of the Lahaina fire Thursday.

    CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    A person documents the aftermath of the Lahaina fire Thursday.

Editors’ Note: Please bookmark this page. This breaking news story will be updated as soon as more information becomes available.


UPDATE: 9:50 p.m.

The death toll from this week’s Maui wildfires is now 80, up from 67 reported earlier today, county officials confirmed.

No further information on the fatalities was released.

9:10 p.m.

Maui police said that Kaanapali fire that led to evacuations earlier tonight is 80% controlled.

No further evacuations are being conducted, police said just before 9 p.m.

7:40 p.m.

Maui police said that residents in Kaanapali were being evacuated due to a fire.

They said there are no restrictions to exit the west side, police said.

“We will allow entrance once it is safe to do so,” police said

3:50 p.m.

The state Attorney General’s office said it will conduct “a comprehensive review of critical decision-making and standing policies leading up to, during, and after the wildfires on Maui and Hawaii islands this week.”

The review comes as Maui County officials have come under sharp criticism that the public was not warned sufficiently about the Lahaina fire before it obliterated the historic town Tuesday night.

The Maui Fire Department said it had contained a wildfire in Lahaina Tuesday morning, and that it diverted firefighters to help with other brushfires being whipped up throughout the island by powerful winds indirectly related to Hurricane Dora, which was passing south of the islands. Later Tuesday, the Lahaina fire flared up and by nighttime was engulfing Front Street and the surrounding area.

Residents who escaped the inferno have complained that they received no evacuation notices before or during the conflagration.

Hawaii Emergency Management Agency spokesperson Adam Weintraub told The Associated Press that the department’s records don’t show that Maui’s warning sirens were triggered on Tuesday.

Instead, the county used emergency alerts sent to mobile phones, televisions and radio stations, he said. However, cell phone service and electricity were both cut off by the winds and fires.

Gov. Josh Green announced earlier today that he had authorized the “comprehensive review” to find out exactly what happened and when.

“The Department of the Attorney General shares the grief felt by all in Hawaii, and our hearts go out to everyone affected by this tragedy,” Attorney General Lopez said in a statement announcing the review. “My department is committed to understanding the decisions that were made before and during the wildfires and to sharing with the public the results of this review. As we continue to support all aspects of the ongoing relief effort, now is the time to begin this process of understanding.”

As of this afternoon, the firestorm’s death toll stands at 67, the deadliest natural disaster in Hawaii state history, and is expected to continue rising in the coming week.

The disaster is already the second-deadliest wildfire in U.S. history behind the 2018 Camp Fire in California, which killed at least 85 people and destroyed the Sierra Nevada town of Paradise.

Meanwhile, Maui County officials said firefighters are still battling three wildfires on the island. The Lahaina fire was 85% contained by this afternoon; the Pulehu/Kihei fire, 80% ; and the Upcountry Maui fire, 50%.

2 p.m.

Up to about 100 people made their way into the water during the wildfire that burned down much of Lahaina, U.S. Coast Guard officials said.

Capt. Aja L. Kirksey, Commander of Coast Guard Sector Honolulu, in a news conference this afternoon said it received reports of “people needing rescue after fleeing from fire and smoke.”

Kirskey said the Coast Guard had initially anticipated it would require a “mass rescue,” saying that reports from Lahaina Tuesday afternoon estimated up to 100 people were in the water.

The Coast Guard itself rescued 17 people from the water; other state or Maui County agencies assisted others in the water; and some people left the water themselves.

The Coast Guard said it found one unresponsive person in the water. The state of that person was unavailable.

The agency is continuing its search and rescue mission, although it didn’t say there was any reason to believe there is anyone lost at sea.

1:25 p.m.

Maui County said the death toll from Tuesday’s wildfire that obliterated Lahaina is now 67, making it the deadliest natural disaster in state history.

The county’s announcement came just an hour after Gov. Josh Green told CNN that fatalities had risen to 59 today from 55 Thursday night.

Before Tuesday’s fires, the 1960 tsunami that killed 61 people was the state’s deadliest natural disaster. On April 1, 1946, when Hawaii was still a U.S. territory, a tsunami generated off Alaska killed 159 people in the islands.

Green repeated today that officials expect this number to continue to grow in the next week as FEMA and other crews experienced in searching through rubble start going through the hundreds of burned-out homes of Lahaina. Those crews are expected to begin their grim work Saturday.

1 p.m.

Gov. Josh Green said this afternoon that the Lahaina fire death toll has risen to 59, up from 55 Thursday night.

In an interview on CNN, Green said that there are also more than 1,000 people “that we are still connecting with. We’re not searching for them, per se.

“We had several hundred homes that did burn and those homes will be assessed in the coming days, starting tomorrow morning, with the FEMA team and people who can identify tragically whether someone has perished in their home.”

Green also said “without a doubt there will be more fatalities” and that officials should have “as close to a complete assessment” in the next week.

He also said the state is launching the Hawaii Fire Relief Housing Program which will use short-term rentals to house the thousands of Maui residents who have been displaced The state will cover the cost and is discussing the program with FEMA, Green said.

Asked about reports and criticisms that the public was not warned sufficiently about the Lahaina fire, Green said he has authorized a “comprehensive review” to find out exactly what happened and when.

But he repeated that the combination of high winds fueled by a passing hurricane and drought conditions created an unprecedented catastrophe.

10 a.m.

Maui Mayor Richard Bissen Jr. said this morning that families and visitors with identification will be allowed into West Maui starting at noon today through Maalaea.

In addition, a curfew is being imposed in Lahaina from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. daily, the mayor said in a recorded announcement shared with Maui radio stations.

RELATED COVERAGE

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>> Power outage shutters hotels outside Lahaina

>> Maria Lanakila still stands, but Waiola Church is gone

>> ‘Nothing left’: Future unclear for Maui residents who lost it all in fire

There is still no water or power in West Maui and search crews continue efforts in the Lahaina town area for victims of the brush fire. Limited access into Lahaina, the county said.

According to the county website, residents of West Maui with identification showing proof of residency and visitors with proof of hotel reservations will have access to Lahaina via Maalaea beginning at noon today.

There will be measures designed to secure the heavily impacted area of historic Lahaina town, officials said. The measures include no unauthorized public access beyond barricaded areas and the curfew in historic Lahaina town and other affected areas.

The curfew is intended to protect residences and property, officials said.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE

State and Maui County crews, with the help of federal resources on the ground and more on the way, simultaneously continued the grim task of recovering victims of Tuesday’s wildfires while also battling to contain and extinguish several blazes that continued to burn today.

As of this morning, the official death toll from the massive fires that destroyed Lahaina stood at 55 but Gov. Josh Green, Maui Mayor Richard Bissen Jr. and other officials predict that number will climb significantly.

Bissen told NBC News this morning that the death toll so far only includes victims found outside, but they have yet to search inside destroyed and damaged structures because the county is waiting for federal crews with equipment that can handle potential “hazmat conditions.”

Green estimated Thursday that about 1,700 homes and buildings were destroyed or heavily damaged, and the ultimate cost in lost property will be in “the billions of dollars.”

Green told KHON-2 this morning that Bissen will announce that residents will be allowed back into Lahaina today, but that a curfew will be imposed.

President Biden, who issued a presidential disaster declaration Thursday to fast-track federal aid and resources for the recovery effort, spoke with Green by phone today.

The White House said Green, who toured Lahaina and other hard-hit areas Thursday, “provided the president with a first-hand update and assessment of Hawaii’s latest needs, and thanked the president for the support of FEMA and other federal agencies.”

Pope Francis sent a telegram of condolences to the people of Hawaii, offering prayers for the victims, the injured and displaced from the wildfires, according to the Associated Press. The note said Francis was saddened to learn of the destruction and “expressed solidarity with all those suffering from this tragedy, especially those whose loved ones have died or are missing.”

He also offered prayers for emergency responders who are providing aid to the victims.

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell is scheduled to tour Maui today and meet with local officials regarding ongoing recovery efforts,.

Maui County officials early this morning said firefighters continue working to extinguish flare-ups and contain fires in Lahaina, Pulehu/Kihei and Upcountry Maui. They are being aided by 21 firefighters from the Honolulu Fire Department, and a nine-member search-and-rescue team also arrived on island.

In other county updates:

>> Power was restored to all Upcountry water pumping stations, and water will be restored after lines are flushed.

>> County refuse collection in West Maui will resume today.

>> A Federal Emergency Management Area search-and-rescue team with the Nevada Task Force arrived last night with two K-9 cadaver dogs.

>> A Maui Oil tanker parked on the side of the road in North Kaanapali provided fuel for West Maui residents from noon to 5:30 p.m., pumping 370 gallons of diesel and 2,198 gallons of gas.

Officials said bus evacuations Thursday transported more than 1,200 visitors from Kaanapali hotel areas to Kahului Airport, and that 14,900 visitors left on flights departing Maui. Visitors wanting to leave Maui are asked to book a flight with an airline. Travelers can book flights to Honolulu, then continue on another flight to their destination.

Donations of non-perishable food, bottled water, hygiene items and blankets continue to be accepted from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday at the War Memorial Complex. Also needed are slippers, men’s underwear, clothing, pillows, large duffel bags and storage containers.

Some cellphone service was available in West Maui today. “If you have a cell signal and cannot make a call, try texting instead,” officials said.

Six emergency shelters are open today. They are:

>> Wailuku: War Memorial Gymnasium.

>> Pukalani: Hannibal Tavares Community Center

>> Kahului: Maui High School, King’s Cathedral Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Maui Lani and Grace Bible Church

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