Brace for Hawaii Death Toll to Rise Quickly

Rescuers have yet to be able to search inside buidlings
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 11, 2023 2:23 PM CDT
Hawaii Governor: The Damage 'Will Shock You'
A woman walks through wildfire wreckage Friday, Aug. 11, 2023, in Lahaina, Hawaii.   (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

The death toll from the Hawaiian wildfires stood at 55 on Friday afternoon, but it's expected to multiply in the near future. The reason? Authorities have not yet been able to search inside the scores of burned-out buildings. "We're waiting for FEMA to help with that search, as they are equipped to handle the hazmat conditions of the buildings that have that have been burned," says the mayor of hard-hit Maui, Richard Blissen, per CNN.

  • Lahaina: Evacuated residents of the devastated town of Lahaina on Maui will soon be allowed to return to check on their property, said Gov. Josh Green, per the New York Times. "Everyone please brace themselves as they go back," he warned, adding that the town is "gone." Green toured the area Friday, per Hawaii News Now. "When you see the full extent of the destruction in Lahaina, it will shock you," he says. "It does appear like a bomb and fire went off, if I may. And all of the buildings virtually are gonna have to be rebuilt. It will be a new Lahaina that Maui builds in its own image, with its own values."

  • No sirens? The AP reports that it appears no emergency sirens sounded as the wildfires approached Lahaina. Alerts did go to phones, TVs, and radio stations, but widespread power and cellular outages limited their effectiveness.
  • Oprah: Oprah Winfrey was spotted handing out supplies at a major shelter in Maui, reports the Independent. The celeb has lived part-time on the island for 15 years and owns about 1,000 acres there. A spokesperson said she went to Walmart and Costco to shop for needed items.
  • Why so devastating? High winds, dry conditions, and low humidity contributed to the fiery conditions, the Wall Street Journal explains. The local topography of mountains and valleys, and how air interacted between them, also played a role. "It's like putting your finger over a hose," says John Bravender of the National Weather Service in Honolulu. "That restricts the flow and makes it go faster."
  • Bigger picture: The New York Times has a separate explainer that takes into account longer-term issues in Hawaii, including decreased rainfall, higher temperatures, and invasive species. Yes, Hawaii is known as a lush paradise. But "the explanation is as straightforward as it is sobering: As the planet heats up, no place is protected from disasters."
(More Hawaii wildfires stories.)

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