Following the wildfires that claimed over 90 lives and destroyed hundreds of homes, officials in Hawaii have advised tourists to avoid visiting Maui, where many hotels are now open to accommodate evacuees and first responders.
According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, approximately 46,000 individuals have departed from Kahului Airport in West Maui after hearing about the devastation in Lahaina.
The agency stressed the need for the combined efforts of the federal, state, and county government, the West Maui community, as well as the travel industry, to ensure the recovery of residents who were forced to evacuate their homes and businesses. Visitors are encouraged to explore other islands in Hawaii.
Locals who have been displaced in the area will be provided with 500 hotels rooms, as stated by Governor Josh Green. The governor also announced that 500 more rooms would be reserved for Federal Emergency Management Agency workers and some hotels would continue to operate normally to help sustain jobs.
A video of a Hawaii resident recounting their nightmare experience of losing their family home in Lahaina at 02:08.
The state is looking to partner with Airbnb to enable the creation of rental housing for residents. Green envisions that the company will be able to provide rentals for individuals who have been homeless for three to nine months.
Jason Momoa, a Hollywood actor and Hawaiian-born tourist, also advised against travelling to the island on Saturday.
He wrote on Instagram that Maui is not the place to go on vacation right now. “Don’t expect to be needed on an island that is experiencing such hardship.”
Yuki Iwamura/AFP/Getty Images: Volunteers unload supplies for the fire victims in Maui.
With the death toll near Lahaina reaching 93, officials stated that the search and identification of those who died was still in its early stages. The wildfire is already the most fatal US disaster in more than a century.
According to Maui Police Chief John Pelletier’s statement on Saturday, only 3% of the search area has been covered by teams of dogs.
“An area that covers at least 5 square miles has been designated for us to contain, and it is filled with our loved ones,” he said, noting that the death count is expected to increase and that “no one among us knows the extent of the area yet.”
While touring the devastation on Front Street in Lahaina, Green warned that it would be the most devastating natural disaster Hawaii has ever experienced. He emphasized the importance of reuniting people and providing them with housing and healthcare before continuing to rebuild.
Green stated that West Maui suffered damage to at least 2,200 buildings, with almost all of them being residential. The estimated cost of the damage was close to $6bn across the island.
According to county officials on Facebook, as many as 4,500 individuals are seeking shelter, citing data from both the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Pacific Disaster Center.
This is higher than the death toll of the 2018 Camp Fire in northern California, which caused 85 fatalities and destroyed the town of Paradise. The 1918 Cloquet Fire from Minnesota, a century ago, devastated rural areas, burning thousands of homes and killing hundreds.
The origin of the wildfires is being investigated. According to Hawaii emergency management records, there are no indications that the warning sirens were activated before the town was destroyed. Officials alerted mobile phones, televisions, and radio stations, but power and cellular outages may have prevented their spread.
The wildfires on Maui were fueled by a dry summer and fierce winds from an approaching hurricane, with parched brush covering the island. US Fire Administrator Lori Moore-Merrell reported that firefighters were faster than they could have done in the wet morning.
Maui’s firefighting efforts may have been hindered by a shortage of personnel and equipment.
Bobby Lee, president of the Hawaii Firefighters Association, has stated that there are only 65 county firefighters on duty at any given time, who are responsible for managing three islands: Maui, Molokai and Lanaiola.