At least 99 people were killed in the deadliest U.S. wildfire in over a century, officials said Monday.
Maui Police Chief John Pelletier said at a press conference that “there are 99 so far,” and about 25 percent of the affected area has been searched.
In an interview on Monday, the governor warned that 10 to 20 more wildfire victims could be found daily as search crews continued combing through scorched ruins on the Hawaiian island of Maui.
The wildfire has surpassed the tragic toll of the Camp Fire, which erupted on November 8, 2018, in California and resulted in at least 85 fatalities.
The relentless Maui blaze devoured over 2,200 structures, 86 percent being residential buildings. Among the devastating losses, the Na’Aikane o Maui Cultural Center in Lahaina, containing invaluable indigenous cultural documents, art and artifacts, was lost to the flames.
“The scale of destruction is incredible,” said Hawaii Governor Josh Green.
The disaster has spurred criticism of local and federal authorities due to malfunctioning alarm systems, communication gaps and sluggish relief efforts, all contributing to a mounting death count.
Residents have shared their heartrending accounts of losing everything in the disaster, compounded by the harsh reality of being denied access to sustenance.
Beyond the delayed rescue and relief endeavors, concerns are mounting over the effectiveness of Hawaii’s emergency siren warning system, which notably remained silent as the deadly wildfires raged.
Some people also point to the factor of colonialism. Kaniela Ing, a Kanaka Maoli environment activist and former Hawaiian legislator, has attributed the catastrophe to “colonial greed,” casting it as the catalyst behind the island’s disastrous ecosystem transformation.
“The gross mismanagement of land by greedy developers and land speculators destroyed our natural landscape and buffers and enabled the rapid spread of the fire,” said Ing.
In the 19th century, Lahaina served as the Hawaiian royal family’s home and burial place and became the Hawaiian Kingdom’s first capital.