HONOLULU (AP) — Nearly a month after the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a century killed at least 115 people, authorities on Maui are working their way through a list of the missing that has grown almost as quickly as names have been removed.
Lawsuits are piling up in court over liability for the inferno, and businesses across the island are fretting about the loss of tourism.
Government officials from Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen to President Joe Biden have pledged support, and thousands of people have been put up in hotels and elsewhere as they await clearance to visit and inspect the properties where they once lived.
A look at things to know about how the recovery in Lahaina is taking shape following the Aug. 8 disaster:
HOW MANY PEOPLE DIED?
The official confirmed count stands at 115, a figure that has not changed since Aug. 21. But many more names remain on a list of people who are considered unaccounted for, and it is unclear whether the toll of the deceased will rise — or whether it will ever be known how many perished.
Maui County Police Chief John Pelletier has repeatedly pleaded for patience as authorities try to verify who is missing, who has been accounted for and who has died.
Officials have also sometimes clouded the situation. Police on Aug. 24 released a “credible” list, compiled by the FBI, of 388 missing people for whom authorities had a first and last name and a contact number for whoever reported them missing.
Many of them, or their relatives, came forward to say they were safe, resulting in the removal of 245 names on Friday. Some others are known to have died in the fire, but their remains have not yet been identified.
Gov. Josh Green had said the number of missing would drop to double digits with Friday’s update, but when police released it, there were 263 newly added names, for a new total of 385.
Over the weekend Green posted a video on X, formerly known as Twitter, seeking to clarify, saying, “The official number has been 385 … but there are only 41 — 41 active investigations after people filed missing persons reports.”
Formal investigations will aim to determine the cause of the fire and review how officials handled it. But about a dozen lawsuits have already been filed blaming Hawaii Electric Company, the for-profit, investor-owned utility that serves 95% of the state’s electric customers.
The Associated Press sent an email seeking comment to the county. The Department of the Attorney General said in a written statement that the state is reviewing the lawsuit, and Hawaiian Electric declined to comment in an email sent by spokesperson Darren Pai.
“Our hearts are with all affected by the Maui fires,” Kamehameha Schools said in a written statement. “We are committed to restoring our Native Hawaiian people and culture through education, which includes stewarding and uplifting the health and resiliency of our ’āina (lands) and Native communities. As many aspects of the fires are still under investigation, we have no further comment at this time.”
SHOULD TOURISTS VISIT MAUI?
Officials said last week that the visitor traffic to the island has dropped 70% since Aug. 9, the day after Lahaina burned. Maui relies heavily on tourism for jobs, and the economy is reeling.
Lahaina’s restaurants and historic sites, once popular tourist draws, are now charred ruins. Large resort hotels farther up the west coast of Maui were spared but are now housing displaced residents.
Authorities are encouraging travelers to visit the island and support the economy, but ask that they avoid west Maui and instead stay in other areas like Kihei and Wailea.
Full Story: AP September 6, 2023