My nearly four decades in law has taught me to not guess at answers to questions, and I spoke plainly and truthfully when asked at a press conference about recollecting what happened on Aug. 8. As this seems to be of interest, I should have offered more in my comments about what occurred on the day of the disaster. And I want to be clear, and repeat that I had been present in our Emergency Operating Center since Aug. 7.
Due to the impending weather report, we held a meeting in the Emergency Operating Center on Monday Aug. 7, and it was decided by MEMA that we should go to partial activation starting at 9 p.m. that evening. Two MEMA staff were assigned to stay at the EOC until the next day.
My team and I have been deeply and heavily focused on response decisions and activities. In the past 24 days, I have not spent time looking back in detail, and instead have put energy on requesting and receiving day to day needs and supporting evolving response efforts.
I was alerted by Maui Emergency Management Agency staff in the early hours of Tuesday, Aug. 8, that a wildfire was occurring in the Upcountry area, and I reported to the County’s Emergency Operating Center at around 6:30 a.m. I was aware that Herman Andaya, who at the time served as the Administrator of the County’s Emergency Management Agency, was on Oʻahu attending a scheduled Emergency Management meeting or conference with officials of HI-EMA.
I was also aware that the agency administrator was in touch with his staff of seven, who were in the county’s Emergency Operating Center, and the Plans and Operations Officer within an Incident Command Structure was present from MEMA personnel. Members of my administration were also present in the EOCl.
The early hours of the disaster unfolded with our emergency responders facing conditions that were made extraordinarily difficult, with high winds, falling debris-including utility poles, and a rapidly advancing wildfire.
While firefighters and private citizens were battling the Kula fire, we were responding to the need to open the Hannibal Tavares Center as an evacuation shelter. Updates from our police and firefighters were provided by radios carried by personnel dispatched to the EOC from the Police and Fire Department.
I and key members of my staff, the managing director, chief of staff and chief of communications and public affairs remained at the EOC, some until the next morning. The severe gravity of the impact was not clear in the initial hours as our firefighters and police on the ground placed all of their efforts and actions towards helping people in the areas.
As the evening of the first day came, the horrific effects of the wildfire in Lahaina became apparent. At that time the degree and magnitude was still unknown as the situation unfolded.
I had learned that there were many of our own emergency crews battling conditions and working to help our community in the midst of the crisis, who themselves had lost their homes. I became aware of fatalities in the morning of Aug. 9, which I shared with the lieutenant governor’s team. The realization that we had lost lives was devastating.
There are no words that can adequately describe the depth of sadness and the shock of realizing lives had been lost. It was difficult to fathom the magnitude of the destruction at that time.
On the evening of the fires on Aug. 8, I instructed our corporation counsel attorneys to complete and emergency proclamation which I signed at around 8 p.m. that evening. Teams from the county, including my own staff, were immediately dispatched to set up four emergency shelter sites, and oversee the startup of food and supply distribution centers, which supplemented community driven hubs that were helping those who needed help.
Our primary focus has been and will continue to be providing support and relief to those affected. What will come at a later time will be a thorough review of the disaster that the county will certainly cooperate with and participate in.
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