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欧美文化:Maui Island burnt in U.S. deadliest wildfire in over 100 years, more deaths predicted

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 13 (Xinhua) -- Smoke still billowed upward in many parts of Maui, the second largest in the chain of islands which make up the state of Hawaii, and Friday's night sky glowed in places where flames leap up from the landscape like the tongues of fire over a funeral pyre.

Five days after the devastating hurricane-driven wildfires dubbed Lahaina, Pulehu and Upcountry Maui Fires, 93 people have been confirmed dead as of Saturday, according to the Maui County.


The death toll meant the disaster officially became deadlier than California's Camp Fire in 2018, which killed 85 and became the deadliest fire in American history over the last 100 years.

It also surpassed the state's deadliest previous largest natural disaster, a 1960 tsunami that killed 61 people. An even deadlier tsunami in 1946, prior to Hawaii's statehood, killed more than 150 on the Big Island.

Maui fire crews battled blazes still scorching parts of the island Saturday, while rescue workers searched for about 1,000 people reported missing.

Moreover, Hawaii Governor Josh Green said on Saturday that the death number would continue to rise.

Maui Police Chief John Pelletier said that canines had searched only 3 percent of impacted areas.

Local reports said that rescuers spray-paints "X" marks on cars and buildings on Front Street to indicate they had been initially checked, but that there could still be human remains inside.

Thousands of people have been displaced, and more than 2,200 structures have been destroyed, showed the damage assessment released by the Pacific Disaster Center (PDC) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) early Saturday. The historic town of Lahaina, which was the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii from 1820 to 1845, was totally burned down to the ground.

Lahaina is also one of the best attractions in Maui. The town with over 12 thousand residents was visited by two million travellers annually, accounting for approximately 80 percent of Maui tourism.

"Without a doubt, it feels like a bomb was dropped on Lahaina," Green said on Friday after walking the ruins of the town with the mayor.

In a video posted online, Milo Tomkinson, 13, and his big brother, Noah Tomkinson, 19, recalled their terrible experience when they tried to escape the town with their mom as flames spread from one block to another in incredible speed.

They were at their Lahaina home when they noticed the flames getting closer, so they tried to flee in their car, but the only road was jammed by panic people.

They immediately decided to leave their car behind and tried looking for shelter on foot, but flames were everywhere. At last they found the only route to survive: the Pacific.

"This is like last resort time, because the fire was like across the street at this point," Noah said. "So we were like, yeah, we've got to jump in the ocean ... and then, once we got in the water, just all the wind and just all the fire, and the smog just are coming straight toward us."

They waded in chest to shoulder deep water for five hours before the flames began to die down and the sky turned dark.

People still don't know what set off the initial spark so far, but Maui's conditions on Aug. 8, dry and windy, are definitely ideal for the spread of a blaze. High winds from far-off Hurricane Dora with speed as fast as 80 mph, fanned the flames across the island crowded with tourists. Meanwhile, on the map of U.S. Drought Monitor on Aug. 8, the whole of Hawaii was marked as abnormally dry or totally in drought.


Despite the bad weather, questions have been raised about Hawaii's siren system, as many survivors told the media that they received no official warnings about the blaze when the tragedy fell down and only realized they were in danger when they saw flames or heard explosions nearby.

The Hawaii Emergency Services Administration said on Friday that the warning sirens were not activated "on Maui during the wildfire incident," but alerts were sent by mobile devices, radio and television, and the opt-in resident alert system.

Maui Fire Department Chief Brad Ventura said the fire moved so quickly from brush to neighborhoods that it was impossible to get messages to the emergency management agency.

But Elizabeth Pickett, co-executive director of the Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization, told the Honolulu Civil Beat that the tragedy was foreseeable.

She said a report that she co-authored nearly a decade ago identified an increased wildfire risk to Maui, with Lahaina in an extreme risk area.

"Much more could have been done" to prevent or mitigate the disaster, she said.

Hawaii's siren system, known as the "All-hazard Statewide Outdoor Warning Siren System," is used to warn residents about emergencies including earthquakes, tsunamis, brush fires, flooding, lava, or terrorist events, according to the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.

The system, established after a tsunami in the 1960s, sounded mistakenly twice in recent years.

In 2018, the text message alert system falsely told the whole state to take cover for an incoming ballistic missile that didn't exist. In 2019, residents in Oahu and Maui were sent into a brief panic when the outdoor siren system was triggered during a training.

In regard to these complaints, Green said Friday he couldn't say for certain if Maui's emergency siren system was activated properly ahead of the deadly wildfires.

Green told NBC News' Lester Holt on Friday that Lahaina is located in a "very remote place" and Hurricane Dora knocked out telecommunications and essentially rendered the island dark at that night.

"I'm very reluctant to blame anyone," he said. "We were fighting multiple fires that were being moved. Because of these winds, we're of course, like everyone else, dealing with the extreme changes, global warming, the drying of our land. And then when this storm passed to the south of Hawaii, that was the hurricane -- it sent those winds."

"Of course, we would never diminish any kind of responsibility," he added.

"This is a tragic day for everyone in Hawaii and the nation. Our hearts go out to the families of the victims and the survivors suffering through the deadliest natural disaster the state has seen in generations," Green said in a statement Thursday.


U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday approved a major disaster declaration for Hawaii in the wake of the devastating wildfires.

Assistance from the federal included grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster, according to a press release from the White House.

But local residents decided to help each other just when the horrible and sad night passed. Thursday, David and Milo gathered supplies and cans of gasoline and delivered them to a friend's sailboat to be sailed over to the western side of the island, where many people remained stranded without resources.

This kind of efficient operation was not organized by the National Guard, nor the Federal Emergency Management Agency, nor state or local government, the Washington Post reported Saturday, "this was scores of residents, led mostly by Native Hawaiians."

Kandi Miranda is the founder of the Hawaiian Donut Franchise USA. She told Xinhua Friday in a telephone interview that profits from her Hawaiian Donut Shops elsewhere on Maui and Oahu islands would be donated to relief efforts in Lahaina Town.

As a licensed psychologist, Miranda also volunteered her professional services to the many shell-shocked survivors.

"There's nothing left, not even a stick of wood," said Chantal Weaver, daughter of the former owner of the Pioneer Inn Hotel, a Lahaina landmark which was burned to the ground by the wildfire.

"Everything has been burnt to the ground. If it weren't for GPS no one would have any idea where the hotel stood because there is no reference point whatsoever," Weaver said.

"The people of Lahaina need our kokua (help) to get through this catastrophe ... I encourage everyone to give as much as they can," she added.

(Video reporters: Huang Heng, Gao Shan, Ceng Hui, Hu Yousong; Video editors: Yu Cheng, Zheng Xin, Zhu Jianhui, Hong Yan, Jia Xiaotong)