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29 May, 2024
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Tragic death of 7-year-old Maui boy found burned in car

Maui wildfire death toll hits 111, expected to rise with children's fatalities

Source: Daily Mail

A seven-year-old boy has been found dead in a burned out car in Maui amid fears children will make up a large number of those who perished in the devastating wildfires.

The death toll from the fires increased to 111 on Wednesday night but lawmaker Elle Cochran, who is in the Hawaii House of Representatives, said it could grow to hundreds as search operations continue.

Cochran fears many of the dead could be children because many schools in Lahaina, the historic town that has been ruined, were closed on the day of the fires due to power outages. A lot of children stayed at home while their parents were at work and might have been trapped and perished.

Hawaii created what it touts as the largest system of outdoor alert sirens in the world after a 1946 tsunami that killed more than 150.

A kindergarten teacher in Lahaina said that a seven-year-old boy - who is the cousin of two of her former students - was found dead alongside his family in a burned out car.

Jessica Sill, who teaches at King Kamehameha III Elementary School, told the Wall Street Journal: 'Our parents work one, two, three jobs just to get by and they can’t afford to take a day off.

Without school, there was nowhere for [kids] to go that day.'

Public schools on Maui have started the process of reopening and traffic has also resumed on a major road, in signs the painful recovery process is underway.

At least three schools untouched by flames in Lahaina, where entire neighborhoods were reduced to ash, were still being assessed after sustaining wind damage, Hawaii Department of Education superintendent Keith Hayashi said.

'There's still a lot of work to do, but overall the campuses and classrooms are in good condition structurally, which is encouraging,' Hayashi said in a video update.

'We know the recovery effort is still in the early stages, and we continue to grieve the many lives lost.'

Elsewhere crews cleaned up ash and debris at schools and tested air and water quality.

Displaced students who enroll at those campuses can access services such as meals and counseling, Hayashi said. The education department is also offering counseling for students, family members and staff.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency opened its first disaster recovery center on Maui, 'an important first step' toward helping residents get information about assistance, FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell said.

At a news conference, Herman Andaya, Maui Emergency Management Agency administrator, defended not sounding the sirens during the fire.

'We were afraid that people would have gone mauka', he said, using the Hawaiian directional term that can mean toward the mountains or inland.

'If that was the case then they would have gone into the fire.'

There are no sirens in the mountains, where the fire was spreading downhill.

Hawaii created what it touts as the largest system of outdoor alert sirens in the world after a 1946 tsunami that killed more than 150.

Andaya said they are primarily meant to warn about tsunamis and have never been used for wildfires. The website for the Maui siren system says they may be used to alert for fires.

Beyond the decision to not use sirens, state and local officials have faced public criticism over shortages of available water to fight the fire and a chaotic evacuation that saw many trapped in their vehicles on a jammed roadway as flames swept over them.

Avery Dagupion, whose family's home was destroyed, is angry that residents weren't given earlier warning to get out and that officials prematurely suggested danger had passed.

He pointed to an announcement by Maui Mayor Richard Bissen on Aug. 8 saying the fire had been contained, 'instilling a false hope in residents of Lahaina,' when hours later the fire exploded.

That, he said, lulled people into a sense of safety and adds to the mistrust that he and others have over officials' efforts now.

At the news conference, Gov. Josh Green and Bissen bristled when asked about that mistrust and how they can assure the public they will do all that's needed to help the community rebuild.

'Did mistakes happen? Absolutely,' the governor said, later adding: 'You can look here to see who you can trust,' referring to the police, fire, emergency and Red Cross officials standing behind him.

'I can't answer why people don't trust people,' Bissen said. 'The people who were trying to put out these fires lived in those homes — 25 of our firefighters lost their homes. You think they were doing a halfway job?'

With the death toll rising by four since Tuesday, a mobile morgue unit with additional coroners has been brought in to help.

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