Hawaii is doing everything it can to combat the consequences of the terrible wildfires raging on Maui. Maui County stated on Friday evening that 12 more fatalities had been confirmed as of 1 p.m. local time, amid an active wildfire in Lahaina. The update raised the previously reported overall death toll of 55 people to 67.
The devastating news comes after U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra declared a public health emergency in Hawaii, giving “the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS) health care providers and suppliers greater flexibility in meeting the emergency health needs of Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries.”
It came on the heels of President Joe Biden’s disaster designation on Thursday, which made federal funds available to anyone affected across the region.
“What we saw today was likely the largest natural disaster in Hawaii’s state history,” said Governor Josh Green in a news release following Biden’s declaration. “It’s going to take a great deal of time to recover from this, but we have the support from every level of government all the way up to the federal level, especially given President Biden’s approval of my disaster declaration request today. It will be a tremendous effort, but we will come together as a community and begin working toward rebuilding from this tragedy.”
The devastation is behind me, but we will put our hope in front of us. pic.twitter.com/cTTUSsRTon
— Governor Josh Green (@GovJoshGreenMD) August 11, 2023
The United States Coast Guard said in a news release on Friday that it “has saved 17 lives, with 40 additional survivors located and assisted ashore by U.S. Coast Guard Station Maui.”
The Coast Guard stated that it conducted a search of more than 450 square nautical miles that lasted more than 15 hours and that there is no known missing person in the water at this moment. Those rescued by the Coast Guard were claimed to be in “stable condition” and found near Lahaina harbor, according to Capt. Aja L. Kirksey, Sector Commander of Coast Guard Sector Honolulu, during an NBC News briefing.
The Lahaina area is considered the biggest community on the island’s west side and is one that local resident Keao Shaw shared with PEOPLE has “just about every house” gone. “The fire was everywhere. It was up in the hills, it was down in the buildings, and [it was in] all the houses. It’s all the way down to the beach,” he expressed while recounting his experience. “People were running for their lives.”
Shaw, who runs a charter boat business in Maui, he lost his house and “one of the boats, probably the more important boat. Yeah, on top of that, the kids were about to go to school but both their schools burned down.”
“My three-year-old, I don’t think she has a great understanding of what happened. But my five-year-old, it’s hitting him, he lost all his favorite books. He really wants to learn how to read and he’s trying to do that,” Shaw said. “All his favorite things are gone. They had a pretty great life up until now, and this is pretty hard on them. Lost his bike and everything else, but everything [is] replaceable, everything rebuildable, but it’s just going to take time.”
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Following Friday’s updates, the state is now facing the largest natural disaster in its history, per CNN. Previously, the state’s highest natural disaster death toll was 61, according to CBS News, following a tsunami that hit Hilo Bay in 1960. Follow us The Current Online for more updates.