Authorities in Maui continue their search with the help of cadaver dogs and DNA analysis for over 1,000 people still unaccounted for after a fire on the island nearly two weeks after brush fires ripped through the island.
"This is the absolute worst disaster I have ever seen," said Frank Taylor with FEMA's National Urban Search & Rescue Response System. "Even though they are diseased, they are still bodies, still people, and that's why you give them the respect that they deserve."
Maui Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) Administrator Herman Andaya resigned on Thursday due to "health reasons," effective immediately, according to county officials.
Andaya told reporters on Wednesday that he did not regret not sounding the sirens and explained that sirens are mainly used for tsunamis. This comes as some Lahaina residents said they were unaware of the risk until the inferno leveled their town last week, resulting in the death of 114 people.
"The public is trained to seek higher ground in the event that the siren is sounded," he said. "Had we sounded this siren that night, we were afraid that people would have gone mauka (on the mountainside), and if that was the case, then they would have gone into the fire."
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Hard-hit Lahaina 90% contained
Hawaiian Electric says that power has been restored to more than 80% of customers without electricity since last Tuesday. Approximately 2,000 customers in West Maui are still without electricity.
Water testing was performed for Lahaina and Upper Kula and is being analyzed by the state Department of Health. Even if the initial testing is clear, health officials said it will take time and additional tests to confirm that the water is safe to drink.
Although there are currently no active fire threats on the island, the hardest-hit area in Lahaina has now been 90% contained, with an estimated 2,168 acres burned.
Officials report that the Kula fire has burned approximately 200 acres and is 80% contained. The Olinda fire has burned just over 1,000 acres and is 85% contained.
‘Travel should not be to West Maui’
Maui officials stress that when a fire is 100% contained, it does not mean it has been extinguished. Rather, it means that firefighters have fully surrounded the blaze. A fire is declared "extinguished" when fire personnel believe there is nothing left burning.
Hawaii Gov. Josh Green, Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen and other officials addressed the public Thursday to provide important updates and responded to significant community concerns regarding the disaster recovery process.
"Like we saw in the pandemic, decisions we made can affect everyone across the islands. So what we're saying now is travel should not be to West Maui. But the other parts of Maui are safe," Green said. "And the rest of the state, of course, is also safe."
"But we want people to travel to the state to the extent that they're not impacting the hard work that these extraordinary people are doing (supporting disaster recovery)," the governor said.
Billions of dollars in reconstruction, governor says
The region has significant economic potential for the future, Green said, as he anticipates $500 to $600 million of added investment in some of the early cleanup.
"And then there will be billions of dollars in reconstruction," he said. "And we also intend to do a public work program to hire local people, so that work comes and stays with our local people. A lot of money is going to be invested in Maui in a kind of an extraordinary way to relief efforts and that's going to help us survive."
Maui's emergency management head resigns
Less than 24 hours after being confronted with questions by reporters about his experience and whether the appropriate alerts were used to warn about the brush fires, Maui Emergency Management Agency Administrator Herman Andaya resigned from his position.
The county said Andaya resigned for health reasons but did not specify if his medical condition impacted the island's response to the disaster.
Andaya stood by his decision not to use sirens to alert the public over fears it would have led to additional chaos.
"Given the gravity of the crisis we are facing, my team and I will be placing someone in this key position as quickly as possible, and I look forward to making that announcement soon," Bissen said in a statement.