Maui fires: Biden says Hawaii 'will have everything it needs'

Officials have confirmed 99 deaths in destructive wildfires, with toll expected to rise

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US President Joe Biden on Tuesday said the Maui fires had ruined “generations of native Hawaiian history” and called it the “deadliest wildfire in more than 100 years” after at least 99 deaths were confirmed.

He said that Hawaii would receive federal support as it attempts to recover.

“I've spoken with Governor Josh Green multiple times and reassured him the state will have everything it needs from the federal government,” Mr Biden sad.

He said that he and his wife, Jill, would visit when the state's recovery was under way.

Hawaii officials are trying to identify the 99 people confirmed to have been killed in the Maui fires, with the death toll expected to rise.

A mobile morgue unit arrived on Tuesday to help Hawaiian officials working painstakingly identify victims.

The US Department of Health and Human Services sent a team of coroners, pathologists and technicians along with examination tables, X-ray units and other equipment to identify victims and process remains, said Jonathan Greene, the agency's deputy assistant secretary for response.

Maui Police Chief John Pelletier said three bodies had been identified.

Officials will begin releasing names on Tuesday after families are notified. About 25 per cent of the burnt area has been searched, according to the county's most recent news release.

Mr Pelletier said 20 dogs were assisting in recovery efforts. He said officials hoped to work through most of the area by the weekend.

“Patience. Prayers. Perseverance. That's what we need,” Mr Pelletier said.

Governor Josh Green on Monday told CBS that recovery teams were expected to find between 10 and 20 victims a day.

The fires began last week and flames were whipped up by hurricane-force winds. The ferocity of the flames forced some residents to flee into the ocean.

The Lahaina fire, which burnt through one of the most historic towns in Maui, was 85 per cent contained.

The Upcountry-Kula fire was 60 per cent contained and the Pulehu-Kihei blaze was fully contained.

“This is the largest natural disaster we’ve ever experienced,” Mr Green said. “It’s also going to be a natural disaster that takes an incredible amount of time to recover from.”

The cause of the fires is still under investigation.

Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Deanne Criswell was in Maui on Saturday, the White House said, to survey the damage and meet community members and state government officials.

More than 300 Fema employees are leading response efforts, and the agency has already provided 50,000 meals, 75,000 litres of water, 5,000 cots and 10,000 blankets to Maui, Ms Criswell said.

More than 3,000 people have registered for federal assistance, according to Fema, and that number was expected to grow.

Fema was providing $700 to displaced residents to cover the cost of food, water, first aid and medical supplies, in addition to qualifying coverage for the loss of homes and personal property.

Hawaii wildfires: Lahaina becomes a ghost town following blaze

Hawaii wildfires: Lahaina becomes a ghost town following blaze

Ms Criswell said Fema's focus was on “making sure that we are doing everything we can to account for everybody that has been unaccounted for”.

She would not say what she expected the final death toll to be as search and rescue efforts continue.

“[President Joe Biden] has given me the space to make sure I'm bringing in all of the appropriate federal personnel and resources to do that,” she said.

Fema estimates that it will cost $5.52 billion to rebuild Lahaina, although Ms Criswell said it was “far too early to tell” what the total financial costs would be.

The inferno had burnt through 878ha. More than 2,200 structures were damaged or destroyed.

The agency is “not taking anything off the table” and plans to be “very creative” in its authorities to develop temporary housing infrastructure as Maui rebuilds, Ms Criswell said.

Hawaiian politicians also questioned why alarm systems did not notify residents and visitors of the fires.

The Hawaii Emergency Services Administration said on Friday that neither Maui nor HI-EMA activated warning signs during the wildfires.

People instead had to rely on mobile devices, local radio and television coverage.

“Sadly, tragically, in this situation, those sirens likely did not go off,” Jill Tokuda, US Representative from Hawaii, told CBS on Sunday.

“The warning signals that were on cell phones, we had no cell coverage or electricity in some of these areas.”

Mr Green said Hawaii's attorney general is leading a review of decisions made during the wildfires.

Updated: August 16, 2023, 1:36 AM