Maui wildfires death toll rises to 80 as rebuild cost put at $6bn

The number of confirmed deaths from wildfires on the Hawaiian island of Maui has now reached 80, with the estimated cost of rebuilding from the devastation standing at approximately $6 billion. The Pacific Disaster Center (PDC) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recently released damage assessment maps, revealing the extent of the damage caused by the fires in Maui County. As of August 11, 2023, the fire that tore through the historic coastal town of Lahaina resulted in an estimated total of 2,719 structures being exposed, with 2,207 structures either damaged or destroyed, and 2,170 acres burned. These figures far exceed the initial reports of 270 structures being affected. Of the buildings exposed to the fire, around 86% were residential. The total rebuild cost for Lahaina is projected to be $5.52 billion. In the town of Kula, an additional 544 structures were damaged, with 678 acres burned, and an estimated rebuild cost of $434 million.

Officials are still uncertain about the cause of the fires, but they believe that dry vegetation and strong winds brought on by Hurricane Dora, a Category 5 storm located several hundred miles off the coast, created the perfect conditions for the rapid spread of the flames. Despite Hawaii having a state-of-the-art siren alert system, survivors claim they received no warning of the approaching danger. Hawaii emergency management records indicate that the state’s 400 warning sirens were not activated before the wildfires. Residents in Lahaina tragically lost their lives as they attempted to flee in cars, while others were trapped in their homes, and some had to jump into the ocean to escape the flames. Alerts were reportedly sent to mobile phones, television, and radio stations, but downed power and cell phone coverage may have limited their reach.

The wildfires moved so swiftly from the brush to inhabited areas that it was impossible to notify the emergency management agencies responsible for issuing alerts, according to Maui Fire Department chief Brad Ventura. County officials have confirmed that the number of fatalities has risen to 80, and Governor Josh Green has warned that the death toll is likely to increase as search and rescue operations continue. A curfew has been implemented from 10pm until 6am. Firefighters are currently working to extinguish flare-ups and contain fires in Lahaina, Pulehu, Kihei, and Upcountry Maui. Access to West Maui is restricted, although one highway remains open for vehicles exiting Lahaina. The historic Lahaina town area is still barricaded, with people advised to stay away due to hazards including toxic particles emanating from smoldering areas. Cadaver-sniffing dogs have been deployed to search for the deceased, as many hundreds of people are still unaccounted for. Efforts to locate individuals are being hindered by widespread disruptions to electricity and cell phone signals.

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