At least 89 people have died in a horrific wildfire that swept through a picturesque town in Maui this week, making it the deadliest U.S. wildfire of the past century.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said that over 2,200 buildings were damaged or destroyed as the fire tore through Lahaina, causing $5.5 billion in damage and displacing thousands of people.
Hawaiian authorities said they were opening a probe into the handling of the inferno as a congresswoman from the state acknowledged that officials had underestimated the danger, and as residents said there had been no warnings.
Hawaii Attorney General Anne Lopez said her office would examine “critical decision-making and standing policies leading up to, during and after the wildfires on Maui and Hawaii islands this week.”
Governor Josh Green said the number of confirmed dead would continue to grow.
“There are 89 fatalities that have been measured,” he said. “It’s going to continue to rise. We want to brace people for that.”
The cause of the fires remains unknown. As the Lahaina fire broke out Tuesday, it was accompanied by chaos and confusion. Emergency sirens weren’t activated on the island. Resident also said the power was cut off, which gave them no access to television or radio. They also said they received no text alerts.
Those in town only fled when the flames were on their heels.
The wildfires are the state’s deadliest natural disaster in decades, surpassing a 1960 tsunami that killed 61 people. An even deadlier tsunami in 1946, which killed more than 150 on the Big Island, prompted the development of a territory-wide emergency alert system with sirens that are tested monthly.