In early August, a catastrophic wildfire engulfed Lāhainā, Maui, leaving over 100 confirmed dead and 850 missing. The tragedy has ignited a firestorm of criticism directed at Hawaii’s state government, particularly Governor Josh Green, for perceived inadequacies in emergency response and preparedness. The absence of warning sirens and a perceived lack of an official response to the disaster have drawn widespread condemnation. The fire coincided with the first day back at school for many students; schools had been closed due to an outage, leaving many children home alone. Tragic stories have emerged, including that of a 14-year-old who perished along with the family dog as his parents were trapped behind a police barricade.
Green’s recent “Anti-Housing” proclamation, aimed at speeding up the construction of 50,000 new homes on Oahu, has further fueled public skepticism. Residents are concerned that developers will exploit the tragedy to build expensive hotels and condominiums, particularly as many of the destroyed properties lie along the coastline. Despite reassurances from Green, the fears persist, fueled by Maui’s existing housing crisis and an average home price of $1.2 million.
Adding to the controversy is the state police chief, John Pelletier, who has a history of service during the 2017 Las Vegas shooting. The federal disaster declaration has not alleviated concerns; locals report minimal assistance in the wake of the disaster. For instance, the Department of Health initially blocked insulin-carrying flights, although the issue has since been resolved.
Critics also accuse state authorities and the media of downplaying the likely high number of child victims to protect the Biden administration and Hawaii Democrats. Social media commentators, influencers, and prominent figures have criticized the lack of aggressive media coverage, suggesting a deliberate attempt to cover up governmental failures. They claim that once the true toll becomes apparent, a reckoning is imminent for local government and media alike.
In a deeply concerning development, the Hawaii State Department of Education has reported that 2,025 students remain unaccounted for in the Lahaina public school system following a devastating fire on August 8 in Lahaina, Maui. Of the 3,001 students initially enrolled across four schools in the district, 538 have re-enrolled in other public schools, and 438 have enrolled in the State Distance Learning Program. However, the fate of the remaining 2,025 is still uncertain. The schools, comprising two elementary, one intermediary, and one high school, are currently closed due to fire damage. One elementary school is severely damaged and unlikely to reopen soon, while the others have suffered damage from winds, debris, and soot.
Private schools in Maui are also impacted. Maui Preparatory Academy received about 1,000 new applications and reshuffled its campus to accommodate 110 new students, a 40% enrollment increase. Sacred Heart School, with about 200 students, was destroyed by the fire.
The situation has left many survivors furious, wondering if a few more minutes of warning could have saved numerous lives. Some survivors or friends and family of survivors say that Maui residents were not warned sufficiently (or even warned at all) before the wildfires devastated their neighborhood. Parents and community members feel particularly tormented, knowing many of the children were home alone when the fire struck. One father, who managed to save his own children but not his neighbors’, stated that even a 10-15 minute warning could have made a significant difference in saving lives.
This disaster has had a monumental impact on the educational and social fabric of Lahaina, exposing gaps in emergency preparedness, and putting a spotlight on the vulnerability of communities during natural disasters. The tragedy also underscores the immediate need for coordinated efforts in search and rescue, led in part by Combined Joint Task Force 50, involving the Hawaii Army and Air National Guard, Army active duty, and Reserve. These groups are working with Maui County authorities to provide immediate support to the community and first responders.
The Hawaii State Department of Education’s report lists out “immediate needs,” which include “caring for our people/health and welfare of affected school communities,” “communicating with stakeholders,” “supporting affected students,” and “assessing and repairing facilities.” The document also expresses the need for counseling services, particularly for the youth, and alternate locations for facilities while environmental testing still goes on to determine which areas are safe enough for residents. “Working on internet connectivity” has been an issue as well.
There are many people online who express disgust at the way this disaster has been handled, calling out the local Hawaii officials for not doing enough to protect the island’s most vulnerable residents. Just a few days ago, the mayor of Maui appeared to be irritated at the question of how many children were missing.
“Maui officials are covering up the death toll. Still claiming people are ‘missing’ in order to hide the horrific truth,” lawyer and filmmaker Mike Cernovich wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, as he shared the video. “Children burned alive. Maybe 1,000 or more.”
Maui officials are covering up the death toll.
Still claiming people are “missing” in order to hide the horrific truth.
Children burned alive. Maybe 1,000 or more.
— Cernovich (@Cernovich) August 21, 2023