15.04.2024

Maui wildfires death toll rises to 80 as rebuild cost put at $6bn

The number of confirmed deaths from this week’s wildfires on the Hawaiian island of Maui has risen to 80, according to the authorities, and the cost of rebuilding from the devastation has initially been estimated at close to $6bn.

The Pacific Disaster Center (PDC) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on Saturday released damage assessment maps of the multiple wildfires in Maui County.

According to PDC, as of 11 August 2023, the fire which ripped through the historic coastal town of Lahainna resulted in an estimated total of 2,719 structures exposed; 2,207 structures damaged or destroyed; and 2,170 acres burned.

This far exceeds initial reports that 270 structures had been damaged or destroyed. Approximately 86 per cent of buildings exposed to the fire were classified as residential.

The total rebuild cost for the popular tourist town is initially projected to be $5.52bn, according to the map and report released this weekend.

Elsewhere, in the town of Kula, another 544 structures were exposed and 678 acres burned. The estimated rebuild cost there is $434m, according to the maps.

The cause of the fires is still unknown, but dry vegetation and strong winds brought on by Hurricane Dora, a Category 5 storm several hundred miles off the coast, made for the worst possible conditions allowing for the explosive spread of the flames.

Survivors say they received no warning of the impending danger, despite Hawaii boasting a state-of-the-art siren alert system.

Hawaii emergency management records show no record that the state’s 400 warning sirens were triggered before Tuesday’s wildfires, according to the Associated Press.

Residents in the town of Lahaina were burned to death as they tried to flee in cars, others were trapped in their homes, and dozens more had to leap into the ocean.

A spokesperson for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency told the AP that alerts were sent to mobile phones, television and radio stations, but downed power and cell phone coverage may have limited their reach.

The wildfires had moved from brush to inhabited areas so quickly that it was impossible to get word to the emergency management agencies responsible for alerts, Maui Fire Department Chief Brad Ventura said.

County of Maui officials confirmed the number of confirmed fatalities had risen to 80, up from the previous figure of 67.

Governor Josh Green had previously warned the death toll would likely rise as search and rescue operations continue. Authorities set a curfew from 10pm until 6am on Saturday.

“The recovery’s going to be extraordinarily complicated, but we do want people to get back to their homes and just do what they can to assess safely because it’s pretty dangerous,” Mr Green told Hawaii News Now.

Firefighters continue working to extinguish flare-ups and contain fires in Lahaina, Pulehu, Kihei and Upcountry Maui, according to the latest update from county officials.

Police are restricting access into West Maui but one highway remains open for vehicles leaving Lahaina.

The burned historic Lahaina town area remains barricaded, with people warned to stay out of the area due to hazards including toxic particles from areas that continue to smoulder.

Cadaver-sniffing dogs were deployed to search for the dead, Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen Jr said.

Many hundreds are still unaccounted for and widespread disruption to electricity and cell phone signal are hampering efforts to locate people.

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