Maui wildfires deadliest in century as death toll hits 93

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The death toll from the Maui wildfires in Hawaii reached 93 on Saturday, according to the Maui County website, making it the deadliest US wildfire in more than a century, with the total likely to rise as cadaver dogs sift through the ruins of Lahaina.

According to Reuters, the scale of the damage came into sharper focus four days after a fast-moving blaze leveled the historic resort town, obliterating buildings and melting cars.

The cost to rebuild Lahaina was estimated at US$5.5 billion, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), with more than 2,200 structures damaged or destroyed and more than 2,100 acres (850 hectares) burned.

Hawaii Governor Josh Green warned at a press conference on Saturday afternoon the death toll would continue to increase as more victims were discovered. Dogs trained to detect bodies have covered only 3 percent of the search area, Reuters quoted Maui County Police Chief John Pelletier as saying.

The state’s attorney general, Anne Lopez, said she was launching a review of the decision-making before and during the fire, while Green told CNN he had authorised a review of the emergency response.

Officials have described a nightmarish confluence of factors – including communications network failures, wind gusts of up to 130 km per hour from an offshore hurricane and a separate wildfire dozens of miles away – that made it nearly impossible to coordinate in real time with the emergency management agency that would typically issue warnings and evacuation orders.

The death toll made the inferno, which erupted on Tuesday, Hawaii’s worst natural disaster, surpassing a tsunami that killed 61 people in 1960, a year after Hawaii became a US state.

The latest figure exceeded the 85 people who perished in a 2018 fire in the town of Paradise, California, and was the highest toll from a wildfire since 1918, when the Cloquet fire in Minnesota and Wisconsin claimed 453 lives.

Officials have secured 1,000 hotel rooms for people who lost their homes and are arranging for rental properties to serve as housing at no cost to families, Green said. More than 1,400 people had been taken in at emergency shelters.

Deanne Criswell, FEMA director, said the agency had 150 people on the ground and that additional search teams and dogs would be arriving within a day or two.