BY – Oluwafunmilayo Ogedengbe
The number of casualties in the fire-devastated town of Lahaina on Monday reached 99, according to Maui’s police chief, who also revealed that 75% of the most severely affected areas had not yet been searched.
In the meantime, MPD Chief John Pelletier declared that the county would initiate the difficult task of disclosing the identities of the deceased. Currently, the identities of three individuals have been verified, although family members have reported additional deaths based on eyewitness accounts.
“Right now we’re at 99 souls, families,” Pelletier said, adding that 20 cadaver dogs are now on the ground with search teams looking for remains.
“We’re going to do this right.”
During a news conference on Monday, Governor Josh Green announced that alongside the ongoing recovery operations, measures are being taken to relocate residents from evacuation shelters to hotels and vacation rentals.
He stated that approximately 2,000 housing units have been secured for this purpose.
Additionally, Governor Green made a commitment to ensure that residents would have access to housing for a minimum of 36 weeks.
“The scale of destruction is incredible,” Green said, adding the recovery will take time.
HECO crews are currently engaged in efforts to restore power to West Maui and undertake substantial repairs to the grid. According to officials, approximately 400 out of 750 power poles in West Maui have been either damaged or completely destroyed.
Furthermore, over 300 transformers are in need of significant repairs.
Despite the large number of individuals still unaccounted for in Maui, federal authorities are maintaining that their efforts in Lahaina are focused on search and rescue operations.
As the search for missing individuals persists, federal authorities suspect that communication challenges may be hindering some people from reuniting with their families.
To aid in the process of reuniting loved ones, the Red Cross is providing assistance, and the county has set up a resource center where people can report missing individuals and provide DNA samples for potential identification.
A Red Cross spokesperson said the agency has received more than 2,500 calls from people looking for loved ones. About 800 of those cases have been resolved.
Meanwhile, thousands of evacuees remain in shelters on Maui. FEMA says about 3,000 people have registered so far for disaster assistance, which includes cash aid.
FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, who is on Maui, spoke at a White House briefing on Monday to encourage evacuees to seek FEMA disaster assistance. Assistance checks of $700 are available for evacuees to help cover the costs of food, water and medical supplies.
“As residents mourn the loss of their friends, their loved ones, their neighbors, the loss of their homes and their way of life, we want to let them know that we are mourning with them,” Criswell said. “Nothing can prepare them for the emotional toll … this severe event has taken on them.”