Hawaii Wildfires Cause $5.5 Billion in Damages

One week after wildfires ravaged communities on Maui Island in Hawaii, search and recovery efforts are still ongoing alongside the recovery process from the disaster. As of August 15th, at least 106 people have been confirmed dead in the deadliest wildfire in over a century in the United States, with the toll expected to rise as search teams have only surveyed about a third of the affected area.

Hawaii Governor Josh Green stated that the flames spread rapidly at a rate of 1.6 kilometers per minute in an area with dry grass and strong winds from an incoming storm. Reuters reported that over 2,200 buildings have been damaged or completely destroyed, with 86% of them being residences. The estimated damages from the wildfires amount to $5.5 billion. The fire in the tourist town of Lahaina, the hardest-hit area, has been 85% contained, while another blaze on the island is under 60% control.

AFP reported that refrigerated containers are being used as makeshift morgues for the bodies of the deceased at a Maui police morgue. The process of identifying the victims is also underway, but many bodies have been burned beyond recognition. Authorities on the island issued warnings to residents in several areas to boil water before consumption due to the risk of contamination. So far, only a few residents have been allowed to return to inspect their homes, as officials warned of potential structural collapse or hazardous chemicals in the air. Yesterday, U.S. President Joe Biden pledged that Hawaii will be provided with “everything they need” for recovery and rebuilding.

Meanwhile, emergency response efforts by authorities are also under scrutiny following reports that the alarm system wasn’t activated when the fires started on August 8th, while many fire hydrants ran dry. Hawaiian Electric, the state’s largest utility company, has been sued with allegations that fallen power lines caused the Lahaina wildfire, though the exact cause is still to be determined.

In Canada, the Northwest Territories government declared a state of emergency on August 15th after wildfires destroyed a significant part of a remote community and threatened the capital city of Yellowknife, according to Reuters. Wildfires across Canada this year have consumed an area of over 130,000 square kilometers, leading to the evacuation of nearly 168,000 people.

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