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Hawaii wildfires leave ‘utter devastation’ in Lahaina

August 15, 2023: On Thursday, many people are no more after the devastating wildfires ripped through Hawaii’s island, Maui, county officials approved.

The blaze has reduced the historic town of Lahaina to ashes, said Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz, who surveyed the damage. According to a Thursday update from Maui County officials, the fire in Lahaina has been 80% contained but remains active. The city remains without power.

Lahaina was the capital of Hawaii from when the islands were an independent kingdom. The city carries deep cultural significance to Hawaiians. King Kamehameha I established Lahaina as his royal residence in the early 19th century as he unified the islands into a single state.

“It’s heartbreaking. The recovery process will be long, but we’re committed to these families and residents,” Schatz said on social media.

Hawaii Gov. Josh Green issued a fourth emergency proclamation on Thursday since the fires started on Tuesday. The declaration will help the recovery and rebuilding of West Maui and permit doctors and nurses from out of state to practice in Hawaii.

On Thursday, Green said in a press conference thousands of people have been left homeless, with hundreds of homes destroyed. Powerful winds and underlying drought conditions caused the fires.

President Joe Biden stated a major disaster in Hawaii on Thursday and vowed to provide immediate federal assistance to the victims. Biden directed Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell to streamline requests for federal aid to survivors without delay.

Criswell will travel to Maui on Friday. The administrator told NPR in an interview that the disaster response will face challenges because the island of Maui is remote and isolated.

“We’ll have to work closely with the governor and his team and be creative in how we’re going to be able to provide the immediate sheltering, which we’re supporting right now, but then the long-term temporary housing that’s going to be needed while they rebuild,” Criswell told NPR.

Criswell said the disaster declaration allows the federal government to provide reimbursement and cash assistance for people to make home repairs. She said the first step is for people to talk to their insurance company. Criswell said the government would also assist people who are underinsured or do not have insurance.

“We also understand that people have lost everything,” Criswell told NPR. “So, this is designed to jump-start their recovery. But it also brings crisis counseling and disaster unemployment assistance.”

Criswell said the focus right now is on saving lives. The administrator said that FEMA has deployed search and rescue teams to find missing people. The agency is also providing communications equipment because there have been communications outages.

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Hawaii wildfires leave ‘utter devastation’ in Lahaina