A month after a massive fire razed a Maui town, 66 people remain missing as workers continue to remove toxic debris from the burned site, a process that could take nearly a year, officials said Friday. Hawaii Governor Josh Green.
The official death toll from the August 8 fire that left the historic town of Lahaina in charred ruins still stands at 115 people, a figure unchanged for more than two weeks.
Only 60 of those victims had been identified as of Thursday, according to the Maui Police Department.
Authorities said some victims may have been cremated in the fire, leaving no remains to be recovered; the final death toll is uncertain, as is the future of the country where Lahaina was located.
Earlier in September, departmental and federal authorities circulated a list of more than 380 people still missing; As of Friday, the list had been reduced to 66 people, the governor said in remarks posted online.
While some families wait in uncertainty, loved ones of those confirmed dead face additional challenges.
Tim Laborte’s father-in-law, Joseph Lara, was killed in the fire. Her body was found a short drive from Lara’s home in her hometown of Lahaina. Now the family is trying to determine whether a mortgage is owed on Lara’s crumbling property and what type of insurance policy he held.
“His stuff is a mess,” Laborte said. “He had no will, no trust.”
The family tried to have Lara’s remains released from a temporary morgue, but Laborte said they were told none would be released until authorities were sure the burned area had been cleared of all human remains, and that obtaining a death certificate could take months. .
The Hawaii Department of Health, which issues death certificates in the state, did not respond to questions about how officials certify fire victims.
Survivors of the fire have not been allowed to return to inspect the ruins of their homes and businesses, although some managed to make their way through during brief forays.
The governor said Friday that residents and business owners will soon be allowed to travel to the burned area on scheduled supervised tours.
“The ashes, we are told, are quite toxic, so we have to be careful,” Green said.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are leading the removal of Lahaina’s toxic debris, a cleanup that Green said would take “the better part of a year” and cost about 1 billion dollars.
The state has asked owners of short-term rental properties on the island to consider renting their properties long-term to people left homeless because of the fire, and has spoken with several hotels about the possibility of rent their entire properties to displaced people, Green said.
More than 6,000 survivors of the fire are still sheltering in hotel rooms, Green said. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is helping the state provide housing subsidies and rental assistance to displaced people for the next 18 months, he said.
Lahaina was built along the coast where the West Maui Volcano descends into the Pacific Ocean, and it was the ancient seat of the Hawaiian Kingdom before becoming a popular tourist destination. How it could be rebuilt remains unclear.
“Maui residents need to be given all the time they need to heal and recover and they will only begin to rebuild when they are ready,” Green said. “I want to emphasize again: Lahaina’s lands are reserved for its residents as they return and rebuild. »
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