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VIDEO: Mayor Bissen gives his account of the events surrounding deadly Maui fires

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VIDEO BY MAUI COUNTY
Watch the video from the press conference above on your desktop or click here to view it on your mobile phone.
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / AUG. 29
                                Maui Mayor Richard Bissen listens to a reporter’s question during a news conference.
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CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / AUG. 29

Maui Mayor Richard Bissen listens to a reporter’s question during a news conference.

CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / AUG. 29
                                Maui Mayor Richard Bissen listens to a reporter’s question during a news conference.

UPDATE: 7:25 p.m.

Maui Mayor Richard Bissen today gave his account of the events surrounding the devastating fires of Aug. 8, saying that the “severe gravity of the impact was not clear in the initial hours” of what would become the deadliest U.S. wildfire in over a century.

In a recorded video late this afternoon, followed by a longer Facebook livestream at 6 p.m., Bissen acknowledged the high amount of interest in what he, his staff and Maui Emergency Management Agency officials were doing before, during and after the tragedy that killed at least 115 people. The mayor’s attempt to clarify what he knew and did as the crisis unfolded comes after he has come under scrutiny for not directly answering questions about the events of Aug. 7-9.

In his two statements, the mayor said:

>> “I want to be clear and repeat that I had been present in our emergency operating center since Aug. 7. Due to the impending weather report we held a meeting in the Emergency Operations Center on Monday, Aug. 7 and it was decided by MEMA (the Maui Emergency Management Agency) that we should go to partial activation starting at 9 p.m. that evening. Two MEMA staff were assigned to stay at the EOC until the next day.”

>> “I was alerted by Maui Emergency Management agency staff in the early hours of Tuesday, Aug. 8, that a wildfire was occurring in the upcountry area and I reported to the county’s Emergency Operating Center at around 6:30 am. I was aware that Herman Andaya, who at the time served as the administrator of the county’s Emergency Management Agency was on Oahu attending a scheduled emergency management meeting, or conference, with officials with HI-EMA (the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency). I was also aware that Herman was in touch with his staff who were in the county’s emergency operating center and that a plans and operations officer within an incident command structure was present from MEMA. Members of my team were also present in the EOC.”

>> “The early hours of the disaster unfolded with our emergency responders facing conditions that were made extraordinarily difficult with high wind, falling debris, including utility poles, and a rapidly advancing wildfire. Updates from our police and firefighters were provided by radios carried by personnel dispatched to the EOC from the police and fire departments. I and key members of my staff, the managing director, chief of staff and chief of communications and public affairs remained at the EOC, some until the next morning.”

>> “I became aware of fatalities in the morning of Aug. 9, which I shared with the lieutenant governor’s team. The realization that we had lost lives was devastating. There are no words that can accurately describe the depth of sadness and the shock of realizing lives had been lost. It was difficult to fathom the magnitude of the destruction at that time.

>> “The severe gravity of the impact was not clear in the initial hours as our firefighters and police on the ground placed all of their efforts and actions toward helping people in the affected areas. As the evening of the first day came, the horrific effects of the wildfire in Lahaina became apparent. At that time, the degree of magnitude was still unknown as the situation unfolded. I have learned that there were many of our own emergency crews battling conditions and working to help our community in the midst of the crisis who themselves had lost their homes.”

>> “I became aware of fatalities in the morning of Aug. 9, which I shared with the lieutenant governor’s team. The realization that we had lost lives was devastating. There are no words that can accurately describe the depth of sadness and the shock of realizing lives had been lost. It was diff to fathom the magnitude of the destruction at that time.”

>> “On the evening of the fires on Aug. 8, I instructed our corporation counsel attorneys to complete an emergency proclamation, which I signed at around 8 p.m. that evening.”

>> “What will come at a later time will be a thorough review of the disaster that the county will certainly cooperate with cooperate with and participate in.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE

Maui Mayor Richard Bissen shared a message to Maui residents at 6 p.m. today.

Watch the Facebook livestream video above.

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