29.05.2024

Hawaii wildfires death toll rises to 114 as governor pledges to rebuild fire-ravaged Maui

The death toll from the Maui wildfires has reached 114 as survivors and city officials grapple with the devastating aftermath of the days-long blaze that turned the historical town into ashes.

Families in the once vibrant cultural hub of Lahaina are mourning the loss of loved ones and searching for the many still missing amid fears that real estate developers are already seizing on the tragedy for land grabs.

At least 114 people lost their lives in the deadliest wildfire in America in the last century, as first responders continue to search for 1,000 missing in the fire-ravaged landscape.

Hawaii Governor Josh Green said he plans to give survivors time to mourn and make them a central part of the process of rebuilding Lahaina. An early estimate suggests that nearly 3,000 homes and buildings burned to the ground or were damaged, and losses are around $6bn.

Mr Green reassured the community that the Lahaina land is “reserved for its people to as they return and rebuild.”

David Gobel told CNN that he hopes to one day return with his family to Lahaina.

Recounting his escape to CNN, Mr Gobel said he and his family left their car in the middle of an avenue as flames closed in on them.

Fellow Lahaina residents also scrambled to figure out where the blaze was receding. The family then decided to head towards the ocean.

“My 12-year-old … he’s like, ‘I’ll take this bag and I’ll go swim with it in the water. You guys have to have the kids… So we jumped in the water,” Mr Gobel recalled.

They eventually became tired of swimming and returned to the shore, covering their children with wet blankets to protect them from the smoke and embers.

“Waves started to come in and we’re basically crashing into the rocks there. So we swam and tread water… Holding the kids… until we couldn’t. We were too tired. We were too tired to swim,” Mr Gobel said. “And my wife stuffed our youngest … right up under her shirt. And we covered them all up with that wet sheet and just hunkered down.”

Forced to start over after their home was burned to the ground, the family will leave Lahaina, at least until they get back on their feet. Mr Gobel will move with his brother to San Diego while his wife and children will stay in Mexico with family.

Mr Gobel said that he plans to work and save money until he can reunite with his family. Hopefully, he said, in Lahaina.

“Where are we going to live? Where are we going to work?” he told CNN. “Our rough draft is to move with hopes of returning.”

Twenty-year-old Jose Vargas also told CNN that his father found the charred remains of his 15-year-old adopted brother Keyiro in their home, which had burned to the ground. Keyiro died in his bedroom, clutching the family dog.

“We have a body,” Mr Vargas said he told authorities after wrapping Keyiro’s body in an aluminium blanket. “I’m sorry, mister officer, but I have the body of my brother.”

The teenager’s parents had been working at a resort the day of the fire. Mr Vargas said that Keyiro didn’t know he had to evacuate until he wasn’t able to escape the flames.

By the time he drove to the home, Mr Vargas said the flames were so tall he couldn’t save his brother.

“He did not leave the house because he was waiting for us to go and save him. We weren’t there for him. And they took a good soul, you know. The flames took more than just a home,” Mr Vargas told CNN.

Maui Emergency Management Agency Administrator Herman Andaya resigned last week following criticism of his office’s failure to activate Maui’s 80-alarm siren system. Mr Andaya, who previously defended his response by saying he didn’t sound the alarms because they would have sent people into the flames, cited his health as the reason for his resignation.

Rebuilding Lahaiana and other Maui towns affected by the fire will be a years-long undertaking.

Local community leaders have already voiced concerns that residents whose families have lived on the land for generations could be pushed out by gentrification.

“Right now there are predatory land speculators, real estate interests hovering above the wreckage like vultures, calling people who are just in their darkest place, who have lost everything, to try to get a hold of the land,” community organizer Kaniela Ing told CNN.

She added: “The people of Lahaina and Maui generally need time to grieve and heal. But unfortunately, at the same time, we’re going to have to figure out how to ensure a just recovery and build the power to actually fight back.”

Gov Green has promised that Lahaina residents will be pivotal in the process of rebuilding the town.

“Let me be clear. Lahaina belongs to its people and we are committed to rebuilding and restoring it the way they want it,” Mr Green said while addressing the community last week.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *