People in the Hawaiian resort town ravaged by a horrific inferno have expressed anger as the death toll from the wildfires rose to 89 on Saturday, making it officially the deadliest US wildfire in more than 100 years.
According to international media reports, officials said the toll might go up further as search teams continue sifting through the ruins of Lahaina town located on Maui island. The resort town of more than 12,000 people has been reduced to ruins, its lively hotels and restaurants turned to ashes.
“It’s going to continue to rise. We want to brace people for that,” Governor Josh Green told reporters on Saturday.
“It will certainly be the worst natural disaster that Hawaii ever faced,” Green said as he toured the devastation on historic Front Street.
The latest figure exceeded the 85 people who perished in a 2018 fire in the town of Paradise, California and was the highest death toll from a wildfire since 1918 when the Cloquet fire in Minnesota and Wisconsin killed 453 people.
Maui police chief John Pelletier said only a fraction of the disaster zone had been searched, and only two of the 89 victims identified because of how badly they were burned. He added that cadaver dogs trained to detect bodies have only covered only 3 percent of the search area.
“The remains we’re finding are from a fire that melted metal,” he said. “We have to do rapid DNA to identify every one of these.
The cost to rebuild Lahaina was estimated at $5.5bn, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), with more than 2,200 structures damaged or destroyed and more than 2,100 acres (850 hectares) burned.
“Our focus now is to reunite people when we can and get them housing and get them health care, and then turn to rebuilding,” Governor Green said, adding that it would take “an incredible amount of time” to recover.”
At least two other fires have been burning on Maui, with no fatalities reported thus far: in south Maui’s Kihei area and in the mountainous, inland communities known as Upcountry. A fourth broke out Friday evening in Kaanapali, a coastal community north of Lahaina, but crews were able to extinguish it, authorities said.
Green said the Upcountry fire had affected 544 structures, of which 96 percent were residential.
Hawaiian authorities have begun an inquiry into the handling of the fire, with residents saying there had been no warning.