Days after the wildfires that engulfed Maui on August 8th, the death toll has hit 93 as firefighters continue to battle flare-ups and search for loved ones. Flames seared the northwest coast of the island and decimated the town of Lahaina, destroying everything in its path. With some survivors reporting little to no warning of the fire and no warning sirens, the fires are the deadliest natural disaster in the state’s history. Although the situation is tragic, people are holding out hope that their loved ones are among the survivors still being found in the wreckage.
“Right now, we are still in the throes of the acute phase of this recovery, meaning that we’re still recovering from the tragic loss of life. We’re at 93 (victims) now … It’s a war zone, but the help is incredible,” Hawai’i Governor Josh Green told MSNBC last Sunday. In response to the potential lack of warning sirens, Green added, “We’ll know soon whether or not they did enough to get those sirens going.”
President Biden says he is “looking into” a visit to the island, weighing the administrative and strategic burden against the morale boost of a presidential visit.
Although aid is crucial in the days after a disaster, it is not enough to simply respond to these events as they happen. As the climate crisis worsens and natural disasters, especially wildfires, become more and more common, it is not enough to help after the fact. The best way to save lives and avoid conflicts spurred by disasters like this one is to comprehensively and effectively address the climate crisis. The Maui fire set both state and federal records for its destruction, but these numbers will become the new normal if climate change continues at its current rate. If these fires are not prevented, lives will be lost regardless of the national response in the aftermath.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (F.E.M.A.) reported the cost to rebuild Lahaina at $5.5 billion U.S.D., with over 2,200 buildings and 2,100 acres scorched in the disaster. F.E.M.A. has deployed 250 staff members, including disaster survival specialists, to aid those affected by the fires. The agency’s response has been uplifting and life-saving. Hotel rooms have been secured for those who lost their homes and emergency shelters have been established for anyone needing immediate aid.
The care provided in the wake of the deadliest fires the United States have faced in over a century is laudable, but F.E.M.A. will need increased resources and manpower to keep up with the increasing frequency of national emergencies. The best way to aid past, present, and future victims is to take action on the climate crisis. While mitigation is still crucial, adapting to our new reality is just as important in preventing death, destruction, and conflict in the future.
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