A Hawaiian who helped a California family of seven survive last week’s wildfires, leading them out to sea and cheering them on as they floated together for two hours, has expressed relief to learn that the family was well and survived the ordeal without significant injury.
Jubee Bedoya of Lahaina said he was running towards the ocean when he saw the parents and their five children from Fresno.
“As the fire got closer, there was a family – a couple from California,” Bedoya said, speaking to NBC News 4.
“They had five children.
“The father gave me the two-year-old child, and from the moment he gave him to me, I had this son in my arms, hanging around my neck for about two hours. Two to three hours in the water. And it was crazy.
Jubee Bedoya, from Lahaina, described in heartbreaking detail how he helped save a family of seven from wildfires in Hawaii
Bedoya is seen floating in the sea with the baby boy clinging to his neck
The parents and their five children have survived their ordeal and are now at home in Fresno
Stunning footage shows the eight people floating in the ocean, clinging to a piece of plywood that had blown through the water, as flames ripped through the shore.
“So the mom didn’t want to come in,” Bedoya said. “The husband caught her.
All eight were eventually rescued from the ocean by the Coast Guard.
The family have returned to California and are not yet ready to speak publicly about the horrors of their experience, but Dao Phonxaylinkham, the husband’s sister, thanked Bedoya for saving them.
The husband told his sister it was terrifying and they felt “helpless”.
But, he added, “You can’t watch them die that way.”
Bedoya, a permanent resident of Lahaina who has now lost his home, told Phonxaylinkham he was incredibly relieved to hear they had survived.
“I’m so happy to hear that they got away with it,” Bedoya told him.
‘Your little nephew – he clung so tight to my neck. He was so terrified. I’m so happy they came out alive.
Phonxaylinkham said the little boy told him that Bedoya had saved him.
“He remembered it, you know,” she said. “I asked who helped you. I said did you feel safe? And he replied: yes, strong like my father.
Bedoya told her, “Give them my love, tell them I’m so glad they’re safe and back home.”
The death toll on Wednesday had risen to 110, but Maui residents were trying to salvage some semblance of normalcy.
Dozens of people clung to the Lahaina shoreline as wildfires tore through the town last week
An aerial view of Lahaina shows the scale of destruction caused by the wildfires in Hawaii
Smoke still rises from Lahaina on Friday
Members of the Hawaiian National Guard are seen combing the devastated city on Friday
Public schools began the process of reopening and traffic resumed on a main road in a sign of recovery.
At least three schools spared from the flames in Lahaina, where entire neighborhoods were burned to the ground, were still being assessed after sustaining wind damage, the Department of Education’s superintendent said. Hawaii, Keith Hayashi.
“There is still a lot of work to do, but overall the campuses and classrooms are structurally sound, which is encouraging,” Hayashi said in a video update.
“We know the recovery effort is still in its early stages and we continue to mourn the many lives lost.”
Elsewhere, teams cleaned up ash and debris in schools and tested air and water quality.
Displaced students who enroll at these campuses can access services such as meals and counseling, Hayashi said.
The Department of Education also offers counseling for students, family members, and staff.
The cause of the fire remains unknown, but a lawsuit has been filed against Hawaiian Electric for their inability to shut off power in dry conditions and hurricane tailwinds.
The head of the island’s emergency agency, meanwhile, said he had “no regrets” that sirens did not sound to warn people of the rushing flames.
Maui Emergency Management Agency administrator Herman Andaya defended not sounding sirens during the fire.
“We were worried that people had gone mauka,” he said, using the Hawaiian directional term which can mean up the mountains or inland.
“If that were the case, they would have gone into the fire.”
There are no sirens in the mountains, where the fire was spreading downstream.
Smoke rises near Lahaina as wildfires sparked by high winds destroy much of historic Lahaina
The historic Waiola Church Hall in Lahaina and the nearby Lahaina Hongwanji Mission are engulfed in flames along Wainee Street on Tuesday, August 8, 2023
Burned out cars are seen after the fires tore through parts of Maui
Hawaii has created what it claims is the world’s largest outdoor warning siren system after a 1946 tsunami who killed more than 150.
Andaya said they are primarily for tsunami warning and have never been used for forest fires.
The Maui Siren System website states that they can be used to alert in the event of a fire.
Beyond the decision not to use sirens, state and local officials have faced public criticism over the lack of water available to fight the blaze and a chaotic evacuation that saw many people trapped in their vehicles on a blocked road as flames swept over them.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has opened its first disaster recovery center on Maui, “an important first step” to help residents get information about assistance, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said. .
They can also go there for updates on help requests.
Criswell said she would accompany President Joe Biden on his visit on Monday to assess the damage and “bring hope.”