Around 1,000 individuals remain missing in the devastating Hawaii wildfire, which has now claimed at least 55 lives.
Among them is a disabled veteran who shared a chilling photo of the raging flames near his residence with his family.
Gov. Josh Green disclosed that this disaster is on track to become the deadliest in Hawaii’s history, noting the challenges of communication due to the absence of power, internet, and phone services.
“As you know, the number has been rising, and we will continue to see loss of life” along with “many hundreds of homes” obliterated.
“That’s going to take a great deal of time to recover from. But that’s why we come together. We come together to give comfort to people,” added Green.
The governor surveyed the once-vibrant Lahaina town, now devastated by the fire’s relentless path, as over 1,000 structures succumbed to the flames.
Hawaii News Now reported that Gov. Green expressed his somber sentiments, stating, “It’s a heartbreaking day. Without a doubt, what we saw is catastrophic.”
“When you see the full extent of the destruction in Lahaina, it will shock you. It does appear like a bomb and fire went off, if I may,” he conveyed during the press conference.
He continued, “And all of the buildings virtually are gonna have to be rebuilt. It will be a new Lahaina that Maui builds in its own image, with its own values.” In his appeal for aid, he urged hotel proprietors and homeowners to assist those displaced.
Amidst the chaos, a particular family is in an agonizing quest to locate a disabled veteran who evacuated his residence on Wednesday.
Describing the harrowing situation, Brittany Talley recounted to CNN that her 66-year-old grandfather, Timm “TK” Williams Sr., who relies on a wheelchair and crutches, sent a gripping photo to the family. The image captured the advancing flames of the Maui fire, ominously encroaching upon him as he endeavored to evacuate.
“He was attempting to make it to a shelter, but all of the roads were blocked,” Talley told the network. “He would not be able to run or move quickly if needed to.”
Nikki White, Timm Williams Sr.’s daughter, took to the platform now known as X (formerly Twitter), posting his picture and issuing an earnest plea for assistance in locating him. Her message conveyed, “He was last known to be driving away from the Kaanapali area seeking shelter in a white SUV. We have not heard from him since 4pm est yesterday.”
Amidst the search efforts, questions arose from Maui residents regarding the state’s renowned emergency alert system, questioning why it hadn’t notified them as the flames swiftly approached their homes.
Hawaii’s emergency management records, as verified by officials on Thursday, indicated no activation of the sirens in response to the wildfire.
Proclaiming the world’s largest integrated public safety alert system, the state is equipped with approximately 400 sirens strategically positioned across the archipelago to notify residents of impending natural disasters and other hazards.
However, the survivors of Lahaina expressed a different reality at evacuation centers, sharing that they had not heard any sirens, realizing the threat only upon witnessing flames or hearing explosions.
Thomas Leonard, a 70-year-old retired postal worker from Lahaina, was oblivious to the fire until the scent of smoke reached him. Lahaina had plunged into darkness, devoid of power and cell phone service, leaving residents devoid of real-time updates on the looming peril.
In a bid to escape, Leonard embarked in his Jeep, yet he was compelled to abandon it, dashing toward the shoreline as nearby vehicles erupted in flames. He found shelter behind a seawall for several hours, contending with gusts that carried scorching embers and cinders.
In a remarkable turn of events, firefighters ultimately guided him and other survivors through the blazing inferno to a place of safety.
Adam Weintraub, a representative of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, clarified that their records did not indicate any activation of Maui’s warning sirens on the fateful Tuesday. Instead, the county relied on emergency alerts distributed to mobile phones, televisions, and radio stations.
Chief Brad Ventura of the Maui Fire Department explained that the wildfire’s rapid progression, swiftly engulfing both wildland and residential areas, made it nearly impossible to convey messages to the relevant emergency management agencies responsible for issuing alerts.
Furthermore, the firefighting efforts on Maui might have been constrained by limited personnel, as suggested by Bobby Lee, President of the Hawaii Firefighters Association.
The Maui County Fire Department faces a challenging situation with a maximum of 65 firefighters on duty at any given time, tasked with combatting fires across three islands: Maui, Molokai, and Lanai.
Notably, they possess around 13 fire engines and two ladder trucks, though these vehicles are primarily intended for on-road operations, according to Bobby Lee. As a consequence, these firefighters encounter limitations when addressing brush fires before they extend to roadways or populated regions.
The formidable winds generated by Hurricane Dora significantly exacerbated the situation, making firefighting efforts exceedingly challenging, as highlighted by Bobby Lee.
He aptly described the scenario, stating, “You’re basically dealing with trying to fight a blowtorch. You’ve got to be careful — you don’t want to get caught downwind from that, because you’re going to get run over in a wind-driven fire of that magnitude.”
This wildfire has already marked the most devastating natural disaster in the state since a tragic 1960 tsunami claimed 61 lives on the Big Island.
Furthermore, this wildfire stands as the most lethal wildfire in the United States since the 2018 Camp Fire in California, which tragically claimed the lives of a minimum of 85 individuals and laid waste to the town of Paradise.