AP

Morgues short of space to handle rising death toll from Maui fires

Aug 12, 2023, 5:46 PM | Updated: 5:49 pm

Wildfire wreckage is left behind following a stubborn blaze on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023, in Lahaina,...

Wildfire wreckage is left behind following a stubborn blaze on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023, in Lahaina, Hawaii. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Follow AP’s live updates about wildfires that have devastated parts of Maui in Hawaii this week, destroying a historic town and forcing evacuations. The National Weather Service said Hurricane Dora, which passed south of the island chain, was partly to blame for strong winds that initially drove the flames, knocking out power and grounding firefighting helicopters.

UNCERTAINTY OVER HOW MORGUES WILL HANDLE RISING DEATH TOLL

As the death toll from the fires on the island rises, it’s unclear how morgues will be able to accommodate the number of victims considering there is just one hospital and three mortuaries.

The number of deaths has risen to 80, according to a statement by Maui County on Friday. The number of confirmed fatalities in the 9 p.m. announcement increased from the previous figure of 67.

The fire is the deadliest in the U.S. since the 2018 Camp Fire in California, which killed at least 85 people and destroyed the town of Paradise.

FILE – Thomas Leonard lies on an air mattress at an evacuation center at the War Memorial Gymnasium after his Lahaina apartment burned down, Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023, in Wailuku, Hawaii. Sherrie Esquivel, of Dunn, N.C., spent frantic days trying to find her father, Leonard, after fires devastated Lahaina this week. Neighbors told her early Friday, Aug. 11, he was safe, and she only found out ordeals of how he survived by reading an Associated Press article. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

Beyond the confirmed deaths in Maui, hundreds of other people remain unaccounted for.

Mike Rice has been looking for friends on the island but have yet to hear from them. It’s too early to give up hope, he said, but he has not discounted possibility that they might have perished along with scores of others.

None of them had cell phones, he said, making his search for three members of the Hernandez clan all the more challenging.

“I think they could have very well made it out,” said Rice, who now lives in California. “They may or may not have made it, I’m not going to sit around with a sense of impending doom waiting to find out.”

OFFICIALS CONSIDER WHERE TO PUT THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE DISPLACED FROM THEIR HOMES

Emergency managers in Maui were still assessing the scope of the damage Saturday in the center of Lahaina and searching for places to house people displaced from their homes.

One possibility was to put some of the survivors and disaster responders at the Sheraton Hotel, with 200 rooms available there, FEMA said in a briefing Saturday morning. But the need for shelter was much higher, estimated at as many as 4,500 people, according to the assessment posted on Facebook early Saturday and based on figures from FEMA and the Pacific Disaster Center.

Wrecked of cars and burnt out buildings

A woman walks through wildfire wreckage Friday, Aug. 11, 2023, in Lahaina, Hawaii. Hawaii emergency management records show no indication that warning sirens sounded before people ran for their lives from wildfires on Maui that killed multiple people and wiped out a historic town. Instead, officials sent alerts to mobile phones, televisions and radio stations — but widespread power and cellular outages may have limited their reach. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Flyovers by the Civil Air Patrol found 1,692 structures destroyed — almost all of them residential. Officials earlier had said 2,719 structures were exposed to the fire — with more than 80% of them damaged or destroyed.

There also was new information Saturday about the damage to boats, with nine confirmed to have sunk in Lahaina Harbor according to sonar.

Some 30 cell towers were still offline, and power outages were expected to last several weeks in west Maui.

LAHAINA RESEMBLES A GHOST TOWN

Some residents in Lahaina have expressed frustration about having difficulty accessing their homes amid road closures and police checkpoints on the western side of the island.

On the south end of Front Street on Saturday morning, one resident walked barefoot carrying a laptop and a passport, asking where the nearest shelter was. Another, riding his bicycle, took stock of the damage at the harbor, where he said his boat caught fire and sank.

One fire engine and a few construction trucks were seen driving through the neighborhood, but it remained eerily devoid of human and official government activity.

Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen Jr. surveyed the damage in Lahaina on Thursday and said the historic town that has been reduced to charred vehicles and ash doesn’t resemble the place he knew growing up.

“The closest thing I think I can compare it to is perhaps a war zone, or maybe a bomb went off,” he told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Friday. “It was cars in the street, doors open, melted to the ground. Most structures no longer exist.”

Regarding search and rescue efforts, he said some cadaver dogs arrived Friday.

WEST MAUI FIRE CAUSES FRIDAY NIGHT EVACUATION

Police say a new fire burning on the Hawaii island of Maui has triggered the evacuation of a community to the northeast of the area that burned earlier this week.

The fire prompted the evacuation of people in Kaanapali in West Maui on Friday night, the Maui Police Department announced on social media. No details of the evacuation were immediately provided.

Traffic was halted earlier after some people went over barricaded, closed-off areas of the disaster zone and “entered restricted, dangerous, active investigation scenes,” police said.

In an earlier post on Facebook Friday, police said many people were parking on the Lahaina Bypass and walking into nearby areas that were “locked down due to hazardous conditions and biohazards.” Police warned violators could face arrest.

“This area is an active police scene, and we need to preserve the dignity of lives lost and respect their surviving family,” the post said.

HAWAII ATTORNEY GENERAL CONDUCTS REVIEW OF DECISIONS MADE DURING MAUI FIRES

Hawaii Attorney General Anne Lopez’s office will be conducting a comprehensive review of decision-making and standing policies leading up to, during and after the wildfires, she said in a statement Friday.

“My Department is committed to understanding the decisions that were made before and during the wildfires and to sharing with the public the results of this review,” Lopez said. “As we continue to support all aspects of the ongoing relief effort, now is the time to begin this process of understanding.”

MAUI COUNTY SAYS DON’T DRINK WATER, SHORT SHOWERS OK. EXPERT SAYS NO

Kula residents who have running water were warned Friday by the Maui County water agency not to drink it and to take only short, lukewarm showers “in a well-ventilated room” to avoid exposure to possible chemical vapors.

Agency director John Stufflebean told The Associated Press that people in Kula and Lahaina should not even drink water after boiling it until further notice, as hundreds of pipes have been damaged by the wildfires.

“We talked to the health department, and they say it is OK to take a short shower,” Stufflebean said. “You don’t want to make the water really hot, but lukewarm water in a well-ventilated area should be OK.”

Wildfire wreckage is shown Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023, in Lahaina, Hawaii. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

The state needs to reassess their guidance to the utility, said Andrew Whelton, an engineering professor at Purdue University whose team was called in after the 2018 fire that destroyed Paradise, California, and the 2021 Marshall Fire in Boulder County, Colorado.

“Showering in water that potentially contains hazardous waste levels of benzene is not advisable,” Whelton said. “A Do Not Use order is appropriate as precautionary measure until sampling and analysis is conducted.”

Whenever a water pipe is damaged or a city water tank is drawn down very quickly, it can lose pressure. That can cause the unpressurized pipes to suck in smoke and other contaminants. Some of the contaminants that are common with urban wildfires are cancer-causing.

Crews are now shutting off valves for damaged pipes to avoid further contamination, Stufflebean said. Next the Department of Water Supply will flush the system, which could take a few days. Then, officials plan to test for bacteria and an array of volatile organic compounds, following recommendations from the Hawaii State Department of Health, he said.

Maui gets drinking water from streams and aquifers. It has a large public water system, but some people are on private, unregulated wells.

COAST GUARD RESCUED 17, INCLUDING 2 CHILDREN, FROM OCEAN

A Coast Guard swimmer jumped into the ocean to rescue two children and three adults who had fled the flames in Maui earlier this week, a commander of Coast Guard Sector Honolulu told reporters Friday.

Capt. Aja Kirksey said Coast Guard members moved quickly on Tuesday to help rescue people who were forced to jump into the ocean to escape the wildfire.

Kirksey said the Coast Guard rescued 17 people from the water, all of whom are in stable condition. Kirksey said more people than that were ultimately saved from the water, but others were rescued by other agencies.

MAUI WILDFIRES PROJECTED TO BE THE 2ND COSTLIEST DISASTER IN HAWAII HISTORY

This week’s wildfires are expected to be the second costliest disaster in the history of Hawaii, second only to damages from 1992’s Hurricane Iniki, according to a Friday statement from a prominent disaster and risk modeling company.

Karen Clark & Company said in the statement that approximately 3,500 structures were within the perimeter of the fire that torched the popular tourist town of Lahaina in west Maui.

Officials said Thursday that fast-moving flames destroyed 1,000 buildings and killed 55 people, although both numbers are expected to increase.

MAUI COUNTY’S MAYOR CALLS WILDFIRE AN ‘IMPOSSIBLE SITUATION’

Bissen Jr. said Friday he couldn’t comment on a report by the AP that the state’s emergency management records showed no indication that warning sirens sounded off before people were forced to flee.

“I think this was an impossible situation,” Bissen told NBC’s Today show. “The fires came up so quickly and they spread so fast.”

Meanwhile, the county said residents with identification and visitors with proof of hotel reservations could return to parts of Lahaina starting at noon Friday. They will not be allowed into a restricted area of the historic part of Lahaina.

The county said in a statement that a curfew, intended to protect residences and property, will be in place starting tonight from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

MAUI HUMANE SOCIETY SEEKS FOSTER HOMES AND DONATIONS FOR WOUNDED ANIMALS

The Maui Humane Society says it is seeking donations to help care for hundreds of dogs, cats and other animals that have been injured or separated from their human families because of the wildfires in Maui.

The shelter says many animals need critical care due to smoke inhalation.

The group said it expects an inundation of lost pets. It is seeking emergency foster homes, pet food and litter, and cash donations to provide medical care for wounded animals and to keep pets in their homes.

As of Friday morning, the organization had raised more than half of its goal of $300,000 via Facebook.

THOUSANDS LEAVE MAUI AS OFFICIALS EVACUATE VISITORS

Authorities in Hawaii are working to evacuate people from Maui as firefighters work to contain wildfires and put out flare-ups.

The County of Maui said early Friday that 14,900 visitors left Maui by air Thursday.

Airlines added additional flights to accommodate visitors leaving the island. The county advised visitors that they can book flights to Honolulu and continue on another flight to their destination.

The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency called on residents and visitors to suspend unnecessary travel to the island to make space for first responders and volunteers heading there to help residents. Visitors on nonessential travel were being asked to leave the island, according to the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority.

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This story has been updated to correct the date and location of past wildfires. The Camp Fire occurred in 2018, not 2017, and the 2021 Marshall Fire was in Boulder County, Colorado, not Boulder.

___

Associated Press journalist Mark Thiessen contributed to this story from Anchorage, Alaska; Ty O’Neil from Lahaina, Maui; Christopher Weber contributed from Los Angeles; Audrey McAvoy, Claire Rush and Jennifer Kelleher from Honolulu; Christopher Megerian contributed from Salt Lake City, Utah; Bobby Caina Calvan from New York City; Caleb Jones from Concord, Massachusetts; Brittany Peterson from Denver; and Janie Har from San Francisco.

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Morgues short of space to handle rising death toll from Maui fires