A mobile morgue unit and extra coroners have been brought in to help as the death toll from the devastating Maui wildfires rises to 111.
The latest victim was a seven-year-old boy, found dead in a burned-out car, has triggered fears that other children may make up a large number of those who perished in the unfolding disaster.
Hawaii House of Representatives lawmaker Elle Cochran has warned the toll could still climb into the hundreds as search operations continue, raising more concern for other children who stayed home alone while their parents were away at work.
“Our parents work one, two, three jobs just to get by and they can’t afford to take a day off,” said Jessica Sill, a kindergarten teacher at King Kamehameha III Elementary School in Lahaina. “Without school, there was nowhere for [kids] to go that day.”
Public schools on Maui have started the process of reopening and traffic has also resumed on a major road, in signs the painful recovery process is underway.
At least three schools untouched by flames in Lahaina were still being assessed from sustaining wind damage, Hawaii Department of Education superintendent Keith Hayashi said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has opened its first disaster recovery center on Maui and is offering counseling for students, family members, and staff.
However, Herman Andaya, Maui Emergency Management Agency administrator, defended not sounding sirens during the fire, saying they were primarily meant to warn about tsunamis and had never been used for wildfires.
This, coupled with shortages of available water to fight the fire and chaotic evacuation that left many trapped in their vehicles as a jammed roadway went up in flames, has left residents angry and mistrustful of state and local officials’ efforts now.
Governor Josh Green and Mayor Richard Bissen have both bristled at public criticism, with Bissen insisting that firefighters have lived and lost their own homes during the ordeal.
“I can’t answer why people don’t trust people,” Bissen said. “The people who were trying to put out these fires lived in those homes — 25 of our firefighters lost their homes. You think they were doing a halfway job?”
As Maui begins the grueling process of recovery, officials have vowed to do all that’s needed to help the community rebuild. In the meantime, families of the victims can only hope that the rising death toll does not spiral even further.