People should wait, assess before donating to Hawaii fire recovery, experts say. Follow live updates – The Denver Post

By REBECCA BOONE (Associated Press)

Follow live updates about wildfires racing across part of Maui in Hawaii, destroying sections of a historic town and forcing evacuations, including from the popular tourist spot of Lahaina. The National Weather Service says Hurricane Dora, which is passing south of the island chain at a safe distance, was partly to blame for strong winds that initially drove the flames, knocking out power and grounding firefighting helicopters.

Philanthropy experts recommend that people seeking to donate to Maui’s wildfire victims wait to do so.

Regine Webster, vice president of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, says the full scope of need may not be known for up to a week as firefighters finish up their response.

She also urged potential donors to support organizations with deep local ties and community knowledge.

People can also donate through the crowdfunding site GoFundMe, which vets fundraisers for those who have lost property or were injured. The organization will conduct additional verification before releasing the funds. They also deduct a transaction fee.

Images and stories coming out of the historic town of Lahaina paint an increasingly grim scene as Hawaii’s emergency responders work to rescue victims and control wildfires that have ravaged parts of Maui this week.

A flyover of the area Thursday showed normally vibrant communities had been reduced to gray and black. Street after street was nothing but rubble and foundation, said Associated Press video journalist Ty O’Neil, who was on the flight. The road was littered with charred vehicles, and an elementary school was left a mess of collapsed steel. Though pockets of wispy smoke remained, there were no active flames visible.

Tiffany Kidder Winn arrived in Lahaina on Wednesday to survey the damage. Her gift store, Whalers Locker, was destroyed along with many others on Front Street. The scene became gruesome, she said, when she came across a line of burnt-out vehicles, some with charred bodies inside.

“It looked like they were trying to get out but were stuck in traffic,” she said.

She later spotted a body leaning against a seawall. He had managed to climb over but died before he could reach the ocean while escaping flames, she surmised. Now and then, she would pause to allow her emotions and sense of horror to spill out.

“The fire came through so quickly that there was no notice,” she said. “I think a lot of people just had no time to get out.”

Maui officials have opened a “Family Assistance Center” at the Kahului Community Center for people seeking those unaccounted for. The Maui Emergency Management Agency will pass out forms and help locate the missing.

President Joe Biden spoke with Hawaii Gov. Josh Green by phone and offered his condolences for lives lost and land destroyed by the wildfires, the White House said.

He pledged federal disaster aid to ensure that “anyone who’s lost a loved one, or who’s home has been damaged or destroyed, is going to get help immediately.”

Biden promised to streamline requests for federal assistance and said that the Federal Emergency Management Agency was “surging emergency personnel” on Maui. He also ordered all available Coast Guard and Air Force personnel on the island to work with the Hawaii National Guard.

“Our prayers are with the people of Hawaii. But not just our prayers. Every asset we have will be available to them,” he said.

Earlier Thursday, the White House announced the president had approved a disaster declaration for the state, clearing the way for federal aid. The funding will include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover damaged uninsured property and other programs for Maui residents and businesses suffering losses.

Officials are still trying to get a handle on the fires’ progress but know they’re not fully contained, Hawaii Emergency Management spokesman Adam Weintraub said.

“We are still in life preservation mode. Search and rescue is still a primary concern,” he said. “Our search and rescue teams from Maui and supporting agencies are not able to do their job until the fire lines are secure.”

Hawaii Gov. Josh Green, U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz and Federal Emergency Management Agency staffers headed to Maui on Thursday morning to assess the damage from devastating wildfires, Schatz wrote on social media.

Emergency rescue, recovery and firefighting operations were still underway, so the group would be careful not to interfere with those efforts, Schatz wrote on the X platform, previously known as Twitter.

“Winds are finally backing off. The number of dead continues to rise,” Schatz wrote.

So far, officials have confirmed 36 deaths from the wildfires that swept across parts of Maui this week, driven by fierce winds from a hurricane passing far south of the island chain. Dozens more people were injured, and more than 270 structures were damaged or destroyed.

The damage assessment will help Hawaii’s leaders get a better idea of what federal aid is needed.

In a Facebook post, the governor asked that Hawaii’s residents provide all the emotional and financial support they can to residents of Lahaina and Maui, calling the wildfires “the deadliest natural disaster the state has seen in generations.”

A mass evacuation effort resumed Thursday morning for visitors and residents stranded just north of a historic town in Maui that was destroyed, officials said.

Buses were slated to pick up people in Kaanapali, north of Lahaina, taking visitors directly to the Kahului Airport and residents to a shelter in central Maui, the county of Maui announced on Facebook.

The wildfires, driven by strong winds from a hurricane passing far to the south of the island chain, raced through Lahaina and other parts of Maui on Tuesday night. At least 36 people died and dozens more were injured, officials said, and more than 271 structures were damaged or destroyed. The fire is the deadliest since the 2018 Camp Fire in California, which killed at least 85 people and virtually razed the town of Paradise.

The main road that runs along the western coastline of Maui — also the only road in and out of Lahaina — was closed to most traffic while firefighting and emergency rescue efforts continued.

Officials in Hawaii warned Thursday that the death toll — already at 36 — could rise, with the fires still burning and teams spreading out to search charred areas.

Search-and-rescue teams fanned out in devastated areas to look for survivors, Weintraub, of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, told ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Addressing the fear of additional deaths, Weintraub said authorities are “hoping for the best, but we’re prepared for the worst.”

Wildfires, whipped by strong winds from Hurricane Dora passing far to the south, took the island of Maui by surprise, leaving behind burned-out cars on once busy streets and smoking piles of rubble where historic buildings had stood. Flames roared throughout the night, forcing adults and children to dive into the ocean for safety.

The wildfires ripping through Maui left a swath of devastation for blocks in the historic town of Lahaina, videos and photos of the tourist destination show.

Historic buildings along Lahaina’s popular Front Street were charred and flattened on Wednesday, with power lines draped across roadways and abandoned cars left as blackened husks.

Richard Olsten, a helicopter pilot for a tour company, flew over the fire site on Wednesday and was shocked by a scene where it “looked like a bomb went off.”

“It’s horrifying. I’ve flown here 52 years and I’ve never seen anything come close to that. We had tears in our eyes, the other pilots on board and the mechanics and me,” he said, recalling even the boats in the harbor were burned.

Lahaina was the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom under Kings Kamehameha II and III from 1820 to 1845 and served as a main port for the North Pacific whaling fleet, according to the National Park Service.


Associated Press journalist Mark Thiessen contributed to this story from Anchorage, Alaska; Ty O’Neil from Lahaina, Maui; Christopher Weber contributed from Los Angeles; Audrey McAvoy, Clair Rush and Jennifer Kelleher from Honolulu; Christopher Megerian contributed from Salt Lake City, Utah; Bobby Caina Calvan from New York City; and Caleb Jones from Concord, Massachusetts.

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