A refrigerated mobile morgue has been brought to the devastated town of Lahaina as Maui officials continue their search for victims of the worst US wildfire in 100 years.
The death toll on Sunday rose to 93, but Hawaii officials said it was likely to rise significantly.
John Pelletier, Maui’s police chief, said only three percent of Lahaina – home to more than 9,000 people – had been searched so far.
Officials with cadaver dogs went house to house over the weekend searching charred buildings for human remains.
Buildings that had been searched were marked with an X – a custom adopted by US authorities after Hurricane Katrina – and those containing bodies were marked “HR”.
Members of the FBI’s Evidence Response Team are pictured setting up racks to be put inside a refrigerated mobile morgue on Sunday
FBI agents are seen Sunday preparing the structures to enter inside the morgue
The mobile morgue will allow authorities to keep the bodies cool as they attempt to identify the remains
The morgue was being prepared behind a screen on Sunday as Maui continues to recover from the tragedy
Those still missing loved ones are asked to provide a DNA sample.
Pelletier described the blaze as “a fire that melted metal,” saying it was severe enough that every body recovered will need to be identified using DNA.
As the dead began to be counted, questions arose about how the fire started, how it got so out of control and whether the official response was enough.
The cause has yet to be confirmed, but on Saturday, LippSmith LLP and other law firms filed a class action lawsuit against Hawaiian Electric, alleging its downed power lines caused the fire and that officials company “inexcusably kept their power lines live”. despite the fire alarms.
The company said Sunday it was unable to comment on pending litigation.
“Our immediate goal is to support emergency response efforts on Maui and restore power to our customers and communities as quickly as possible,” said company spokesman Jim Kelly.
“At this early stage, the cause of the fire has not been determined and we will be working with the state and county as part of their review.”
It appeared that Hawaiian Electric had not cut the power lines when they were warned of hurricane-force winds approaching the island.
States like California, which experiences a large number of wildfires, frequently deploy a “public power cut plan”, which involves intentionally cutting off power to areas where large wind events could start fires.
California began implementing the plan following the 2017 and 2018 wildfires, which until last week were the most destructive and deadliest in the country in the past 100 years.
The historic town of Lahaina, which is in Maui County, suffered after a block of complete devastation from wildfires; an aerial view shows charred cars demolished on Friday
The death toll has risen to 93, and more bodies are expected to be found
Burnt homes and buildings are pictured following the wildfire on Saturday
Lahaina is seen from a boat, with the burnt buildings
An aerial photo taken on Friday shows the fires still smoldering in Lahaina
A Mercy Worldwide volunteer assesses damage to the charred apartment complex in Lahaina on Saturday
Maui’s firefighting efforts may have been hampered by limited personnel and equipment.
Bobby Lee, president of the Hawaii Firefighters Association, said there are no more than 65 county firefighters working at any given time, who are responsible for three islands: Maui, Molokai and Lanai.
Lahaina resident Riley Curran said he doubted county officials could have done more, given the speed of the flames.
He fled his Front Street home after seeing the fire coming from the roof of a nearby building.
“It’s not that people haven’t tried to do anything,” Curran said. “The fire went from zero to 100.”
Elsewhere on Maui, at least two other fires have been burning: in the Kihei area of South Maui and in the mountainous interior communities known as the Upcountry. No fatalities have been reported as a result of these fires.
The Upcountry Fire affected 544 structures, mostly homes, Green said.
As many as 4,500 people need shelter, county officials said on Facebook, citing figures from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Pacific Disaster Center.
Hawaii Governor Josh Green said 500 hotel rooms will be made available to residents who have been displaced. An additional 500 hotel rooms will be set aside for Federal Emergency Management Agency workers.
Some hotels will continue normal operations to help preserve jobs and support the local economy, Green said.
On Friday, Green asked residents with space to open their doors and welcome Maui residents who have lost their homes.
The state wants to work with Airbnb to ensure rental units can be made available to residents, and Green hopes the company will be able to provide three to nine month rentals for those who have lost their homes. .
At least 2,200 buildings were damaged or destroyed in West Maui, Green said, almost all of them residential.
Island-wide, damage was estimated at nearly $6 billion.
A group of volunteers who sailed from Maalaea Bay, Maui, form an assembly line on Kaanapali Beach on Saturday
The group are seen forming a human chain to get supplies down to earth
People gather for a morning service at Keawalai Church, founded in 1832, in Makena on Sunday
JP Mayoga, a cook at the Westin Maui in Kaanapali, has seen his job shift from feeding tourists to cooking for the approximately 200 hotel employees and their family members who have lived there since Tuesday’s fire broke out. devastated the community of Lahaina just south of the station.
His house and that of his father were spared.
But his wife, two young daughters, father and another local are all staying together in a hotel room because it’s safer than Lahaina, which is covered in toxic debris.
Maui water officials warned residents of Lahaina and Kula not to drink running water, which can be contaminated even after boiling, and to take only short, lukewarm showers in well-ventilated rooms to avoid possible exposure to chemical vapors.
“Everyone has their story, and everyone has lost something. So everyone can be there for each other and they understand what’s going on in each other’s lives,’ he told AP of his colleagues at the hotel.
The latest death toll surpassed that of the 2018 campfire in northern California, which killed 85 and destroyed the town of Paradise.
The fires are Hawaii’s deadliest natural disaster in decades, surpassing the 1960 tsunami that killed 61 people.
An even deadlier tsunami in 1946 killed more than 150 people on the Big Island.