Questions about Maui fire response continue as death toll climbs to 110
by Kim Jarrett, The Center Square, August 16, 2023
(The Center Square) - An update on the Maui County fires on Wednesday was tense as city and state officials shot back at questions from reporters over why sirens were not activated when the fires began.
Maui County Emergency Management Administrator Herman Andaya said sirens are not used to warn residents about fires. The state used a system that sends alerts through text messages, cell phones and landlines, and another that broadcasts warnings through television and radio.
Andaya said he did not regret not using the sirens.
"The sirens are used primarily for tsunamis and that's the reason why many of them are found, almost all of them are found on the coast line," Andaya said. "The public is trained to seek higher ground...if a siren is sounded. Had we sounded the siren that night, we were afraid that people would have gone mauka," a phrase meaning upwards to the mountains.
Gov. Josh Green said a comprehensive review is underway to determine the most effective way to warn residents about disasters.
"There are a lot of different geographies across our country," Green said. "Some use sirens, some don't."
The governor said he was also told a siren was a warning for a tsunami.
State officials confirmed 110 people died. They have searched 38% of the affected area.
President Joe Biden increased the federal cost share from 75% to 100% for 30 days, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said. Biden will visit the area on Monday, the governor announced earlier Wednesday.
Green said one of his other concerns is people trying to take advantage of Maui victims through "land grabs." He is consulting with Attorney General Anne Lopez on a moratorium on any transactions.
"There's some legal challenges there," Green said. "We're going to push right through those and make sure that people don't lose their land here in Hawaii."
Green said he will have more information Friday on "how hard I can lock that down."
"People are right now traumatized," Green said. "Please don't approach them with an offer to buy land. Please don't approach their families to tell them that they are going to be better off if they make a deal."
Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen said property taxes are waived for residents affected by the fire, whether it is their residence or land. Anyone who has paid their taxes will receive a refund.