Lahaina wildfire recovery Day 20: land search is complete, survivors are no longer expected
August 28, 2023, 11:20 PM HST
On day 20 since a deadly wildfire swept through Lahaina Town, Governor Josh Green said the search and rescue on land is complete, and the discovery of any survivors is no longer expected.
“I think it’s important that people do recognize these milestones because I want them to feel confident that we will help over time to get people back to their lives,” said Gov. Green.
“The seven day mark was significant—that’s when the road opened. The 14 day mark was quite significant because that was the day that everyone got out of the [congregate] shelters. The 20 day mark is very significant, because as you’re hearing, essentially, the search and rescue, at least on land, is done,” said Gov. Green, noting that people will be updated again at the one month mark.
At the 20 day mark, Gov. Green said, “There will be no survivors that we will discover at this point. We’ll only find people that were not necessarily on that list—that they didn’t need to be on the list of unaccounted for people. We will find possibly the remains of some individuals on the boats that were out there. There are a couple other sensitive spots that were underwater that had to be investigated. But we’re not anticipating a significant increase.”
“There are stories of survival, and then there are tragic stories around us everywhere of lost loved ones,” said Gov. Green, noting that the fatality count has remained at 115 for the past several days. “We do not anticipate the number going much higher now,” he said.
While the search on land is now complete, crews continue to asses their data to determine if there was any commingling of remains that could have been from more than one person.
“We’re also of course cognizant that there’s some things we won’t know for a little bit of time. Right now we have people diving and looking into the water… Most of the fatalities up to the first 80 were individuals who were quickly determined because it was Front Street,” said Gov. Green.
“We’re grateful that when we delayered the multiple larger buildings… that we didn’t find large numbers of people,” he said.
The number of people who remain unaccounted for had hovered around 1,200 individuals for some time. The FBI and Maui Police Department have worked to reduce the number of duplications, which resulted in a list of about 800 individuals. “Now the official number is 388, but we know it to be more or less, 100 less than that,” said Gov. Green, who refrained from reporting an exact number, expressing the need for care in ensuring it’s been validated first.
“As we come through this first phase, and have isolated those that we’ve lost, we want to share with people… We know you want to get back into the building. I’m trying to accelerate that, but I’m also respecting the process to make sure it’s safe,” said Gov. Green, noting that the debris is a concern.
The plan is to have the 5.5 square mile area broke up into sections that will be cleared by zone, enabling people to access specific areas instead of waiting for the entire area to be cleared.
“There’s a sense of closure that needs to happen. We’re all aware of that,” said Gov. Green. “There are some sensitive sites that people did have access to very quickly because we were careful about not having a rush in there. We wanted to be thoughtful about that.”
As of Sunday, 11,010 FEMA assistance registrations have been received, with some $14.6 million in federal housing and individual assistance provided, according to the County of Maui.
“That means those individuals are going to get resources, whether it’s through rent subsidy… there’ll be some cash programs that people are registered for… and then of course the long-term build,” said Gov. Green.
According to the governor, there are more than 6,000 people now being temporarily housed in hotels and Airbnb units.
“I’ve met up with a lot of people who have lost everything, and they’re worried what happens after 30 days. We will care for you. We will make sure that there is a way to keep you sheltered and housed, but just make sure you sign up,” said Gov. Green.
The governor apologized for the time it took to get into the impact zone saying, some factors like the temperature of the ground, which was upwards of 145 degrees, was a factor. “It was difficult even for the dogs to do the search and rescue. There was still dust emanating from the ground. There was still embers burning. And we knew to actually keep ourselves close to the water because we felt that there had probably been loss of life right there,” said Gov Green.
At the peak of the search, when there were more than 40 cadaver dogs, in addition to staff and personnel.
“Our expectation is it’s going to take a long time, and we’re also expecting that to build consensus—which the mayor will run that operation to build consensus with the community [and] state and federal government will be there in support for infrastructure, hospital services and so on—that’s going to take time, which means we do have to have that breathing space for those who can’t go into hotels, can’t go into Airbnbs,” said Gov. Green.
Gov. Green said he made the decision to use FEMA experts and the Army Corps of engineers to help with debris removal. “We had a very good dialogue abut using local people when we can, [and] make sure we have a major cultural presence, because that’s who we are, and to make sure that there are prevailing wages to the best of our ability,” said Gov. Green.
The next phases includes moving on to temporary housing and then permanent housing, “in time.” He said he expects that resources will be available, but he said, “we have some pretty big battles ahead.”