US rushes resources to Maui fire victims as Hawaii mourns 110 dead

President Joe Biden and first lady to visit Hawaii on Monday to meet survivors and assess damage

Women console each other after digging through the rubble of a home destroyed by the wildfire in Lahaina, Hawaii. AP
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The US government on Wednesday said it was working to “move quickly and push as many resources” into Hawaii as it reels from ongoing destructive and deadly fires.

“This is going to be a very long and hard recovery. But our federal, state and local partners are working around the clock to help all of those who have been impacted by this disaster,” Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Deanne Criswell said at a White House press briefing.

“As he always does, President [Joe] Biden directed me to move quickly and push as many resources into the area so we can help people as soon as possible that were impacted.”

The death toll from the fires that scorched Maui climbed past 110 on Wednesday as the country began identifying victims.

Hawaii's Governor Josh Green said 110 people were confirmed dead and that 38 per cent of the disaster area has been searched.

“It makes us heartbroken,” Mr Green said at a news conference.

The County of Maui said 13 DNA profiles had been obtained from fatalities, and an additional 41 DNA profiles have been obtained by family members of missing people.

Of the 106 confirmed fatalities, only two victims' identities have been released. The Maui Police Department identified them as Robert Dyckman, 74, and Buddy Jantoc, 79. Both men were Lahaina residents.

Three other victims have been identified, although their names have not yet been released.

Fema said it has sent at least 140 workers to assist in search-and-recovery operations as well as additional canine search teams to supplement and relieve those already there.

“We're working carefully to search the affected areas thoroughly and compassionately while respecting all of the cultural sensitivities,” Ms Criswell said.

Mr Biden and his wife Jill will travel to Maui on Monday to meet first responders and survivors, as well as federal, state and local officials, a statement from White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

“I know when the President travels, he's going to be able to bring hope,” Ms Criswell added.

Meanwhile, authorities are trying to find shelter for the thousands of displaced people whose homes were destroyed by the blazes.

Mr Green said hundreds of hotel rooms had already been secured to shelter people, with hundreds more rooms made available from holiday rentals and Airbnb properties.

“We can house everybody who’s struggling, who’s suffering and also who’s helping us respond,” Mr Green said.

Fema has given out $2.3 million in assistance to families and launched a transitional shelter assistance programme to help support the state's fire relief housing scheme.

The White House said Fema has also supplied Hawaiians with meals and water, cots, blankets and shelter supplies that are being distributed by the County of Maui.

Maui County said 85 per cent of the Lahaina fire was contained as of Tuesday evening. The Pulehu/Kihei fire was at 100 per cent containment.

Hurricane-force winds fanned the flames that were sparked last week, resulting in major blazes that forced residents to flee into the ocean. The cause of the fires remains under investigation.

Destroyed by the wildfires was the historic town of Lahaina, once the capital of the kingdom of Hawaii.

The Lahaina fire had burnt through 878 hectares and more than 2,200 structures were damaged or destroyed.

“More than the visual impact of the burn landscape, it's the level of devastation from this fire and the feeling of loss of from such a culturally rich community,” Ms Criswell said.

“That was really palpable everywhere that I went and all the people of Hawaii are in mourning.”

Insured property losses are estimated at $3.2 billion, according to catastrophe modelling firm Karen Clark & Company. More than 3,000 total structures were impacted by the fire, KCC reported.

Most of the buildings that were damaged were residential. The high proportion of wood frames and older construction likely contributed to the damage, KCC reported.

Fema estimated that it would cost $5.52 billion to rebuild Lahaina, although its commissioner said it was “far too early to tell” what the total cost will be.

Mr Green said it would take “many years” to rebuild the historic town.

The White House said on Wednesday that the federal government would provide 100 per cent reimbursement “for the emergency work that's being done for a period of 30 days within the first 120 days at the governor's choosing”, Ms Criswell said.

Updated: August 17, 2023, 5:38 AM