26.06.2024

Maui: Number of people missing rises to 1,100 while survivors reveal land grab fears

The number of people still missing from the Maui wildfires has now risen to 1,100 – more than two weeks after a deadly blaze tore through the historic town of Lahaina.

Officials announced on Tuesday that between 1,000 and 1,100 remain unaccounted for while 115 are confirmed dead. Over the weekend, Maui Mayor Richard Bissen said around 850 people were still missing.

Steven Merrill, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Honolulu field office said the number is expected to fluctuate but “the number that we’re most concerned about is, obviously, trying to clear people from the list. And that has reliably gone down every day.”

After facing criticism for his response, President Joe Biden met with first responders and survivors on Monday and promised that the federal government would be with them “for as long as it takes” to rebuild the community.

“May God bless all those we’ve lost, may God find those who we haven’t determined yet, and may God bless you all,” he said.

However, locals are voicing fears of possible land grabs by realtors and investors – which will push Hawaiian locals from the island.

President Biden and First Lady arrive in Maui

Speaking with Maui survivors, Biden likens wildfires to almost losing his Corvette in small blaze at his home

President Joe Biden drew criticism after tried to empathise with survivors of the Maui wildfires on Monday by sharing his own story of overcoming a small house fire where, luckily, nobody was hurt and nothing of considerable value was lost.

At the Lahaina Civic Center, Mr Biden addressed a crowd of residents who are still reeling from a raging wildfire that spread across their community on 8 August – causing at least 115 people to die and 80 per cent of the town’s structures to be damaged or destroyed.

“I don’t want to compare difficulties, but we have a little sense, Jill and I, what it’s like to lose a home,” Mr Biden told the crowd.

Concerns over ‘climate gentrification’ rise after devastating Maui fires

More than 3,000 buildings in Lahaina were damaged by fire, smoke or both. Insured property losses alone already total some $3.2 billion, according to Karen Clark & Company, a prominent disaster and risk modeling firm.

With a housing crisis that has priced out many Native Hawaiians as well as families that have been there for decades, concerns are rising that the state could become the latest example of “climate gentrification,” when it becomes harder for local people to afford housing in safer areas after a climate-amped disaster.

Jennifer Gray Thompson is CEO of After the Fire USA, a wildfire recovery and resiliency organization in the western U.S., and worked for Sonoma County during the destructive Tubbs Fire in October 2017. Thompson said Maui is one of the “scariest opportunities for gentrification” that she’s seen because of “the very high land values and the intense level of trauma and the people who are unscrupulous who will come in to try to take advantage of that.”

Thompson predicted potential developers and investors will research who has mortgages and said Maui residents should expect cold calls. “You won’t be able to go to a grocery store without a flyer attached to your car,” she said.

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