Maui’s emergency services chief resigns after being criticized for failing to activate sirens during fire


LAHAINA, Hawaii (AP) — The head of the Maui Emergency Management Agency, who faced criticism for failing to activate disaster sirens during wildland firefighting operations last week, resigned Thursday on health grounds.

Maui Mayor Richard Bissen has accepted Herman Andaya’s resignation, the County of Maui announced on Facebook.

“Given the severity of the crisis we are facing, my team and I will be recruiting someone for this key position as soon as possible and I look forward to making this announcement soon,” said Bissen.

As the death toll from wildfires rose to 111 on Wednesday, Andaya defended that sirens did not sound as the flames raged.

Andaya said he was afraid the sirens prompted people to flee to the mountains or inland where fires were burning.

Hawaii boasts what is reputedly the largest outdoor alarm siren system in the world.

This is a recent update. AP’s earlier story follows below.

LAHAINA, Hawaii (AP) — Maui residents whose homes were burned in a wildfire that caused a historical city and killed more than 100 people Hawaii officials said Thursday that hotels in Hawaii ready to accommodate them and offering their services until at least next spring are being steadily filled.

Authorities hope to vacate the overcrowded, uncomfortable group shelters and house the displaced in hotel rooms by early next week, said Brad Kieserman, vice president of disaster operations at the American Red Cross. Hotels are also available for eligible evacuees who have slept in cars or camped in parking lots in the past eight days, he said.

“We will be able to keep people in hotels until accommodation is found for them,” Kieserman said at a media briefing. “I am confident that we will have enough rooms.”

The contracts with the hotels have a term of at least seven months but can easily be extended, he said. The shelters will be staffed with service providers who will provide meals, Advicefinancial support and others disaster relief.

Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said at least 1,000 hotel rooms will be reserved for those who have lost their homes. In addition, AirBnB’s nonprofit wing will provide housing for 1,000 people, the company said.

The governor has also vowed to protect local landowners from being “harassed” by opportunistic buyers as Maui rebuilds. Green said Wednesday he has directed the attorney general to work towards a moratorium on land transactions in Lahaina, although he acknowledged the move would likely present legal challenges.

“My intention from start to finish is to make sure no one becomes a victim of a land grab,” Green said at a news conference. “Don’t go up to their families and claim they’ll be much better off if they make a deal. Because we won’t let it happen.”

With the blaze consuming much of Lahaina just over a week ago, locals fear the rebuilt city could be even bigger aimed at wealthy visitorsaccording to Richy Palalay from Lahaina.

Hotels and condos “where we can’t afford to live – we’re afraid of that,” he said Saturday at a shelter for evacuees.

Hawaii Attorney General Anne Lopez said Thursday that an outside organization would conduct an “impartial, independent” review of the government’s response to the fires.

“We intend to investigate this critical incident to facilitate any necessary corrective action and expedite future emergency preparedness,” Lopez said in a statement. She said the investigation will likely take months.

As the death toll rose to 111 On Wednesday, the head of the Maui Emergency Management Agency defended that the sirens are not sounding flames raged. Hawaii boasts what is reputedly the largest outdoor alarm siren system in the world.

“We were afraid people would go mauka,” said agency administrator Herman Andaya, using a navigational term that can mean “toward the mountains” or “inland” in Hawaiian. “If that were the case, they would have gone into the fire.”

The system was created after a 1946 tsunami that killed more than 150 people on the Big Island, and the website says they could be used to warn of fires.

Avery Dagupion, whose family home was destroyed, said he was angry that residents were not warned earlier to leave the house.

He referenced an Aug. 8 announcement by Maui Mayor Richard Bissen that the fire had been contained. That lulled people into a sense of security and made him distrust officers, he said.

At the press conference, Green and Bissen were outraged when asked about such criticism.

“I can’t answer why people don’t trust other people,” Bissen said. “The people who were trying to put out these fires were living in these houses – 25 of our firefighters lost their homes. Do you think they did half a job?”

The cause of the forest fires that deadliest in the US in more than a century, will be studied. But Hawaii is increasingly threatened by disasters, with wildfires growing the fastest, according to a report Associated Press analysis of FEMA records.

The local utility company faced criticism for leaving the power on due to high winds passing hurricane shaken a parched area last week, and a video shows a Wire dangled in a charred patch of grasssurrounded by flames, in the first moments of wildfire.

“The facts of this event will continue to evolve,” Hawaiian Electric CEO Shelee Kimura wrote in an email to utility customers Thursday. “And while we won’t have the answers for some time, we are committed to working with many others to find out what happened while we remain urgently focused on Maui’s recovery and rebuilding efforts.”

Meanwhile, signs of recovery began to appear as public schools reopened across Maui, welcomed displaced students from Lahaina and traffic resumed on a main road.

The search for the missing shifted beyond Lahaina to other devastated seaside communities. Search forces covered about 45% of the burned area as of Thursday, the governor said.

Corrine Hussey Nobriga, whose home was spared, watched as teams searched through the ashes and debris in search of human remains. While some of her neighbors raised questions about the lack of sirens and inadequate evacuation routes, Nobriga said it was hard to blame for a tragedy that took everyone by surprise.

“Just now we saw the fire over there,” she said, pointing to distant hills, “and the next moment it’s burning all those houses.”

The ongoing search has been marred by disrupted cell service and misleading information on social media. There have also been difficulties in locating people who may be staying in hospitals, with friends, or in newly created unofficial shelters. Many people made leaflets and went door to door in search of their loved ones.

Judy Riley, who works with families to find relatives, said false leads and a sense that “no one is responsible for the missing” have contributed to a sense of despair.

“When you’re looking for missing people, it’s easy for people to fall through the cracks,” she said.

This story has been updated to correct the spelling of the name Nobriga in one case.

Kelleher reported from Honolulu and Weber from Los Angeles. Contributing to this report were Associated Press journalists Michael Casey of Concord, New Hampshire; Jennifer McDermott in Providence, Rhode Island; Seth Borenstein in Washington, DC; and Heather Hollingsworth in Kansas City, Missouri.

The Associated Press’s climate and environmental reporting is supported by several private foundations. Learn more about AP’s climate initiative Here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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