Hawaii’s wildfires disaster is a ‘continuation of long standing frustration and pain’

World

For the firefighters on Maui, it’s been a grim and gruelling week and they are still tackling new outbreaks of fire, sparked from smouldering wreckage. I find several of them chatting at the side of the road.

They say they’re not permitted to speak on camera but tell me that on Tuesday afternoon when fires ripped through this island, when they were trying to save lives, their hydrants first ran out of pressure, then dried up entirely. “It was a serious, serious problem,” one says.

As they left the scene of the blazes in search of more water, local people were forced to fight their own fires.

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Fire crews are still putting out small fires

Kyle Ellison was trying to put out the flames threatening to burn his house down, first with a garden hose, then whatever he could find.

“It’s kind of a disconcerting feeling when the fire guys show up and they don’t have water,” he tells me. “I’m grabbing water out of the base of my kid’s basketball hoop. I was grabbing water out of the toilet. I was grabbing water out of the Brita filter and refrigerator.”

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Footage captured by Noah Tomkinson, 19, shows the terrifying scenes in Lahaina, Hawaii.

The lack of water was compounded by a lack of warning. Hawaii has what it boasts is one of the biggest and best outdoor alert systems in the world. There are 80 giant siren towers on Maui alone, each capable of making a sound louder than an outdoor rock concert. But they stayed silent as the fires hit.

Authorities say that they issued text alerts and TV and radio warnings instead.

More on Hawaii

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Damage in Lahaina

But in Lahaina, the worst affected area, the power was down. I’ve been speaking to people all week who say they did not have sufficient, if any, notice to evacuate.

Some of them ran into the sea to escape, some were badly burned by the flames, others lost friends or family members.

Questions are mounting for the authorities in Maui and the state of Hawaii about why exactly this disaster was so deadly.

At the mayor’s office in Kahului, Maui’s biggest town and commercial centre, officials gather once every two days to address the press. I ask Hawaii’s Governor, Josh Green, if the state was unprepared to deal with a natural disaster of this magnitude.

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Governor Josh Green

“Can we be more prepared? We will always try to be more prepared,” he says. “Nothing would make us more pleased if we could go back in time and have a lot more protection from sirens. We will do all we can to get more water. We will do all that we can to get more warnings for people.”

Outside the building a group of women hold up signs “Hawaiian lands, Hawaiian hands” and “Why No Sirens?”

As Governor Green exits and gets into a convoy of SUVs they shout to him, “Why are we not getting answers about what happened that day?” and “You don’t want to talk about our missing people but you want to talk about rebuilding?”

Some native Hawaiians see this disaster as a continuation of long standing frustration and pain.

Read more:
Governor warns dozens more could be dead
Oprah Winfrey and camera crew turned away from Hawaii shelter
Dramatic before and after shots show impact of devastating Maui blaze

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Richy Palalay has criticised Hawaii’s politicians

Richy Palalay is from Lahaina and lost his home in the fire. He says he received no alert urging him to evacuate.

He says: “I’ve seen the politicians go from Hawaiian natives, people representing the culture and traditions that live here to people that aren’t even from here.

“They don’t even have any roots here. It’s got to this point where it’s like, Who are these people watching us? So do they even properly care for us?”

As the hunt for the missing continues here so too does a search for answers and accountability.

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