Washington, Aug 13 (EFE).- The wildfires devastating the Hawaiian island of Maui since the middle of last week have already claimed 93 lives and the death toll looks likely to rise as the search for bodies continues.
Around 1,000 people remain unaccounted for and search teams with specially trained dogs have only covered 3 percent of the search area, according to Maui Police Chief John Pelletier.
“We’ve got an area that we have to contain that is at least 5 square miles (13 sq km), and it is full of our loved ones,” he said. “None of us really know the size of it yet.”
The identification of bodies is also moving at a slow pace, due mainly to the condition of the remains.
The Maui blaze is already the deadliest fire in the United States since 1918, when hundreds perished in the Cloquet Fire in northern Minnesota.
“There will be active recovery in the days and weeks of the bones and remains of those we lost,” Hawaii Gov. Josh Green told a press conference Sunday.
“It’s going to take many years to rebuild Lahaina. It does appear like a bomb went off,” he said of the historic resort town of 13,000 residents that bore the brunt of the destruction.
The vast majority of the 2,200 buildings damaged or destroyed in West Maui were residential, Green said, estimating damage across the island at nearly $6 billion.
Temporary shelters are holding more than 1,400 people and as many as 4,500 other Maui residents have been forced from their homes.
The island has 400 sirens that form part of what Hawaii describes as the world’s largest integrated outdoor all-hazard public safety warning system in the world, but no sirens sounded last Tuesday as the flames approached Lahaina.
While the system sent out alerts via television, radio, and text message, few of those warnings reached residents because power and cell-phone service went down.
Hawaii’s attorney general, Anne Lopez, said that her office will conduct an “exhaustive investigation” of authorities response to the disaster.