02 September 2023

Hawaii governor says number missing from Maui fire could drop to fewer than 100

02 September 2023

The number of people listed as missing from Maui’s devastating wildfire could drop from nearly 400 to fewer than 100 when authorities provide an update on Friday on their efforts to locate them, Hawaii’s governor said.

“We think the number has dropped down into the double digits, so thank God,” Josh Green said on Thursday in a video posted to X, formerly known as Twitter.

Authorities have said at least 115 people died in the fire, which tore through Lahaina in a matter of hours on August 8 — the deadliest wildfire in the US in a century.

But initially more than 1,000 people were considered unaccounted for, with family, friends or acquaintances reporting them as missing.

Officials narrowed that list down to 388 names who were credibly considered missing, but even that list included the names of many who were alive or who were known to have perished.

Once authorities published the names, more than 200 people quickly came forward with information about those listed.

Meanwhile, Mr Green told The Associated Press in an interview on Thursday his administration has opened several investigations into people who have allegedly made unsolicited offers for property in the fire-stricken Maui town of Lahaina in violation of a new emergency order.

Mr Green prohibited such offers by signing an emergency proclamation on August 19 aimed at preventing land in the historic coastal community from flowing into the hands of outside buyers.

The order aims to give residents some “breathing room” as they decide what to do next, Mr Green said.

Even before fire, Lahaina was a rapidly gentrifying town and there has been widespread concern since that Native Hawaiians and local-born residents who have owned properties in their families for generations might feel pressured to sell.

The fear is they would leave Lahaina, Maui or the state, and take their culture and traditions with them, contributing to the ongoing exodus of Hawaii’s people to less expensive places to live.

“We’ve seen that in a lot of different places in our country and in our world where people have lost everything but their land and someone swoops in and buys properties for pennies on the dollar,” Mr Green said.

“We want to keep this land in the hands of local people, and we want to give them at least a chance to decide whether they’d like to build back.”

About 1,800 to 1,900 homes were destroyed in the fire. The town of 12,000 people was home to many who worked in hotels and restaurants in nearby Kaanapali and Lahaina itself.

About 6,000 people are staying in hotels and vacation rentals while waiting for the toxic waste left by the fire to be cleaned up and rebuilding to begin.

Earlier this month Mr Green, a Democrat, said he wanted to impose a moratorium on land sales in Lahaina to prevent people from being displaced.

But the governor said a blanket ban “may not be doable” and he did not want to prevent people who are considering property sales from initiating those conversations.

The prohibition on unsolicited offers for property was a “de facto” moratorium, he said.

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