CNN — With only a quarter of the Maui wildfire burn area searched, the death toll of what’s already the deadliest US wildfire in more than a century still could rise significantly, Hawaii authorities said Monday.
At least 99 people have been confirmed dead from the wildfires, and the number could double over the next 10 days, Hawaii Gov. Josh Green told CNN Monday.
“It is a tragedy beyond tragedies,” the governor said about the fires that started sweeping parts of the island last week.
Authorities on Tuesday are expected to begin releasing the names of the dead whose families have been notified, Maui Police Chief John Pelletier said in a Monday news conference.
Most of the people found dead had been out in the open, in cars or in the water in western Maui’s hard-hit Lahaina area, Green told CNN. As more teams and cadaver dogs join the effort, the search is expanding through wiped-out neighborhoods.
It’s unclear how many people are unaccounted for, in part because of communication gaps, Green said. “A lot of people had to run and left all they had behind. They don’t have their phones – the phones are incinerated,” he said.
As of Monday, around 25% of the fire zone had been searched, Pelletier said, adding he hopes 85% to 90% will have been covered by the weekend.
“We started with one dog. We are at 20,” Pelletier said. “We can only move as fast as we can, but we got the right amount of workers and teams doing it.”
Crews are going through what used to be homes, business and historic landmarks burned to the ground after wind-whipped wildfires began spreading erratically August 8, suddenly engulfing homes, forcing harrowing escapes and likely displacing thousands.
“Nothing can prepare you for what I saw during my time here, and nothing can prepare them for the emotional toll of the impact that this severe event has taken on them,” FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell told reporters Monday.
The Maui wildfires are the deadliest in the US in more than 100 years, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
CNN, August 15, 2023