The human toll in the cataclysmic wildfire that destroyed a Hawaiian town reached 106 on Tuesday as President Joe Biden said he will travel to the devastated area “soon” while offering “thoughts and prayers” alongside assistance for survivors.
State governor Josh Green has repeatedly warned the running count from last week’s inferno in the historic township of Lahaina — already the deadliest U.S. wildfire in over a century — would grow significantly, urging Hawaiians to brace for a final death toll that could be two or three times its present level, as Breitbart News reported.
Maui County officials updated the death toll to 106 with Green saying earlier over a quarter of the disaster zone had been searched by dogs trained to sniff for bodies.
Questions are already being asked about authorities’ preparedness and response to the catastrophe.
REPORT: ‘We Haven’t Seen’ Promised Relief Efforts in Hawaii as Biden Offers ‘Thoughts and Prayers’
Just two victims have been named so far, while the county said it has identified three more and will release the names after notifying the next of kin.
“It’s going to be a very, very difficult mission,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services deputy assistant secretary Jonathan Greene said. “And patience will be incredibly important because of the number of victims.”
A portable morgue unit arrived Tuesday morning with more than 22 tons of supplies and equipment needed for victim identification and processing remains, such as mortuary examination tables and X-ray units.
Biden’s indication of a visit “soon” to the embattled island follows a furore earlier this week when he said “no comment” when asked about the rising death toll.
Joe Biden reportedly said he had “no comment” when asked Sunday about the rising death toll from the devastating Hawaii fires. https://t.co/NwcDgd0La6
— Breitbart News (@BreitbartNews) August 14, 2023
Meanwhile residents desperate to get back to check on the homes they fled have expressed frustration at bans that have prevented people from getting into Lahaina.
Officials warned of the dangers of unstable buildings and potential airborne toxic chemicals in the area, and said on Monday that one arrest for trespassing had been made, AFP reports.
A police placard system that was supposed to let people back into Lahaina descended into chaos Monday, when it was suspended just one hour after starting.
“The miscommunication is abysmal — people are very angry and frustrated, and this is getting worse,” said Stephen Van Bueren, 42, a local church pastor who waited for more than an hour to get a placard, without success.
Questions are being asked about authorities’ preparedness and response to the catastrophe, the AFP report continued.
Some fire hydrants ran dry in the early stages of the wildfire, and multiple warning systems either failed or were not activated.
A class-action lawsuit has been filed against Hawaiian Electric, the state’s biggest power firm, claiming the company should have shut off its power lines to lower the risk of fire.