Maui residents who made desperate escapes from oncoming flames, some on foot, asked why Hawaii’s famous emergency warning system didn’t alert them as wildfires raced toward their homes.
Hawaii emergency management records show no indication that warning sirens were triggered before devastating fires killed at least 55 people and wiped out a historic town, officials confirmed Thursday. The blaze is already the state’s deadliest natural disaster since a 1960 tsunami, which killed 61 people on the Big Island. Gov. Josh Green warned the death toll will likely rise as search and rescue operations continue.
Hawaii boasts what the state describes as the largest integrated outdoor all-hazard public safety warning system in the world, with about 400 sirens positioned across the island chain to alert people to various natural disasters and other threats. But many of Lahaina’s survivors said in interviews at evacuation centers that they didn’t hear any sirens and only realized they were in danger when they saw flames or heard explosions nearby.
Thomas Leonard, a 70-year-old retired mailman from Lahaina, didn’t know about the fire until he smelled smoke. Power and cell phone service had both gone out earlier that day, leaving the town with no real-time information about the danger.