Unprecedented Tragedy Strikes Maui: Devastating Wildfire Claims Over 90 Lives, Leaving Historic Town in Ruins
Unprecedented Tragedy Strikes Maui
Congregants gathered in Hawaiian churches on Sunday to pay their respects to the deceased and offer prayers for those still missing, as communities braced for a prolonged period of recovery following the recent Unprecedented Tragedy Strikes Maui, wildfire that wreaked havoc on a historic Maui town and claimed the lives of over 90 individuals.
Although most of the surrounding community fell victim to the flames, Maria Lanakila Church in Lahaina remained untouched. However, as search and recovery operations persisted, its members convened for Mass at a location about 10 miles away, under the guidance of the Bishop of Honolulu, Reverend Clarence “Larry” Silva.
Taufa Samisoni recounted the heartbreaking story of his uncle, aunt, cousin, and the cousin’s young son, all tragically discovered within a burnt vehicle. Samisoni’s wife, Katalina, drew comfort from Silva’s reference to the Biblical tale of Peter walking on water, a tale of hope and salvation.
During the Mass, Silva conveyed a message from Pope Francis, expressing prayers for those who had lost loved ones, homes, and livelihoods, while also extending his blessings to the first responders.
Later, Silva shared his concerns about the emotional well-being of the community’s children, who had been witness to the tragedy and were grappling with anxiety and distress.
“The more they can experience normalcy with their peers—learning, having fun—the better off they’ll be,” noted Silva.
Amid the aftermath, Hawaiian officials urged tourists to steer clear of Maui, with numerous hotels making preparations to accommodate evacuees and emergency personnel. Since the disaster struck Lahaina, more than 46,000 residents and visitors have departed from Kahului Airport in West Maui.
Governor Josh Green disclosed plans to provide 500 hotel rooms for displaced locals, and an additional 500 rooms for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) personnel. Efforts were also underway to collaborate with Airbnb to secure rental homes for those who lost their residences.
The state sought to partner with Airbnb to ensure the availability of rental homes for locals. Green expressed hopes that the company could offer three- to nine-month rentals for those left homeless.
While over 2,700 structures were decimated in Lahaina, with an estimated value of $5.6 billion lost, the prevailing concern remained the well-being of the affected individuals, as the government endeavored to provide support and assistance.
As the death toll continued to rise, authorities cautioned that the process of locating and identifying the deceased was still in its initial stages. The wildfire had already become the deadliest in the United States in more than a century.
Dr. Josh Green, a physician, described the situation as harrowing, particularly for first responders who encountered scenes of devastation in houses and businesses. Green anticipated that the numbers of fatalities would sadly increase.
Maui Police Chief John Pelletier reported that crews with cadaver dogs had thus far covered a mere 3% of the search area.
Lylas Kanemoto anxiously awaited news regarding the fate of her cousin, Glen Yoshino.
“I fear he is gone, as we have not heard from him. He would’ve found a way to contact family. We hold onto hope, but prepare for the worst,” Kanemoto said. Family members were preparing to submit DNA samples to aid in the identification of any remains.
The family was already grappling with the loss of four other relatives. The remains of Faaso and Malui Fonua Tone, along with their daughter, Salote Takafua, and her son, Tony Takafua, were found within a charred car.
“At least there is closure for them, although the loss and heartbreak are immeasurable,” shared Kanemoto.
County officials reported on Facebook that up to 4,500 people were in need of shelter, based on figures from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Pacific Disaster Center.
J.P. Mayoga, a cook at the Westin Maui in Kaanapali, continued his daily meal preparations. However, instead of catering to hotel guests, he found himself providing sustenance to approximately 200 hotel employees and their families, who had been residing there since the fire struck the Lahaina community.
While Mayoga’s own residence remained intact, he and his girlfriend, along with her two young daughters, father, and another local, sought refuge in a hotel room, deeming it safer than the toxic debris-covered Lahaina.
Officials from Maui’s water department cautioned residents of Lahaina and Kula against consuming running water, which could remain contaminated despite boiling. They advised taking short, lukewarm showers in well-ventilated spaces to avoid potential chemical vapor exposure.
“Everyone has a story, and everyone has lost something. This solidarity allows us to support one another and empathize with each other’s experiences,” Mayoga said, speaking of his colleagues at the hotel.
Hawaii Island Mayor Mitch Roth emphasized that the recovery process would be a lengthy endeavor, urging residents to contribute financially to established nonprofit organizations. He recommended holding off on physical donations due to the absence of a reliable distribution system.
The death toll had already surpassed that of the 2018 Camp Fire in northern California, which claimed 85 lives and razed the town of Paradise.
The cause of the wildfires remained under investigation. This disaster marked Hawaii’s deadliest natural event in decades, surpassing a 1960 tsunami that claimed 61 lives. An even deadlier tsunami in 1946 claimed over 150 lives on the Big Island.
Fueled by a dry summer and strong winds from a passing hurricane, the flames on Maui spread rapidly through parched vegetation covering the island.
The most devastating blaze swept into Lahaina on Tuesday, leaving nearly every building in the town of 13,000 in ruins, and a somber scene of gray debris juxtaposed between the blue ocean and lush green slopes.
In other parts of Maui, at least two additional fires continued to burn: one in south Maui’s Kihei area, and another in the mountainous inland communities known as Upcountry. Fortunately, no fatalities had been reported from these blazes.