Hawaii to investigate authorities’ response to fires that killed 67 people


The head of Hawaii‘s law office said Friday she has opened an investigation into authorities’ response to devastating wildfires that killed at least 67 people in the state this week.

Criticism for the official reaction to the disaster is growing stronger, so Hawaii’s attorney general, Anne Lopez, announced the opening of an investigation into how the crisis was handled.

Residents have complained that there were no warnings about the fire, which trapped people in the city.

Lopez said he will undertake “a comprehensive review of the critical decision-making and policies in place that led up, during and after the wildfires on the islands of Maui and Hawaii this week.”

Dazed residents searched among the blackened remains of houses Friday for belongings that had survived the fury of the flames in Lahaina, a town on the west coast of Maui popular with tourists.

The number of deaths rose to 67 on Friday afternoon, after confirming another 12 deaths, according to the official balance.

“I can’t believe you did it,” one woman told another as they hugged among the ruins of what was once a town of 12,000 people.

Some were luckier. “I couldn’t believe it,” Keith Todd told AFP after finding his house intact. “I’m so thankful, but at the same time it’s so devastating.”

Firefighters continued on Friday extinguishing the sources and containing fires that were still active in the town, as AFP journalists revealed on a tour.

Search teams are using dogs to track down victims of what Gov. Josh Green said was “probably the largest natural disaster in the history of the state of Hawaii.”

“What we’ve seen today has been catastrophic,” Green said after touring historic Lahaina, the former capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii in the early 19th century.

The fires have devastated more than 800 hectares on two islands of the archipelago and have forced the evacuation of thousands of people, some of whom even jumped into the water to protect themselves from the flames.

President Joe Biden declared a state of natural disaster on Thursday, which will make it possible to release “federal funds available to those affected in Maui County,” the White House explained.

Pope Francis expressed his “deep sadness” over the tragedy.

The fires started early Tuesday morning and their rapid advance endangered homes, businesses and public services, as well as more than 35,000 people on the island of Maui, the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency reported.

“There’s nothing left, it’s all gone, it’s a ghost town,” said Sarai Cruz, 28, who fled Lahaina with her parents, sister and three children.

Brandon Wilson, a Canadian who had traveled to Hawaii with his wife, said “it really looks like someone came in and bombed the whole town.”

In the midst of the emergency, at least 100 residents of the area had to jump into the water to avoid the fire, Coast Guard Commander Aja Kirksey told CNN, noting that some 50 people were rescued from the sea.

“Corpses in the Water”

Crews from Honolulu arrived on Maui Friday along with search-and-rescue teams equipped with K-9 dogs to detect bodies, Maui County said.

The agency announced an all-night curfew.

“These measures include no unauthorized public access beyond entrenched areas and a daily 10:00 pm to 6:00 am curfew in historic Lahaina and affected areas,” the government said.

The day before, residents like Kekoa Lansford had warned of the presence of “corpses floating in the water and on the boardwalk.” “We’ve been getting people out… We’re trying to save their lives, and I feel like we’re not getting the help that we need,” he told CBS.

Luke reported that the fires were caused by dry conditions and strong winds from Hurricane Dora, which is south of the archipelago but is not expected to make landfall.

County authorities asked all visitors to leave the island “as soon as possible” and organized buses to take tourists to the Kahului airport, according to a statement posted on Facebook.

The air terminal has received hundreds of tourists who were stranded, since their flights were canceled or delayed.

Extreme weather events have hit the globe in recent weeks, which scientists say have been exacerbated by climate change.