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‘Hundreds of Filipinos missing in Hawaii wildfires’

INFERNO AFTERMATH. The Ganer family looks through the ashes of their home on Malolo Place in the aftermath of a wildfire in Lahaina, western Maui, Hawaii. The wildfire that left Lahaina in charred ruins has killed at least 93 people, making it one of the deadliest disasters in the US state’s history. AFP

An official of the Maui Filipino Chamber of Commerce in Hawaii said hundreds of Filipinos are among the more than 1,000 missing in the wildfires in Lahaina on Maui Island in Hawaii.

“Just not to exaggerate, hundreds of Filipinos are missing,” Kit Zulueta Furukaw, director of the Maui Filipino Chamber of Commerce, said in an interview with GMA news.

Furukaw said Filipinos comprise the second largest population on the island of Maui.

“The majority of the workforce are Filipino, and many of our hotels are there, so there’s a lot of hospitality, a lot of small businesses, and a lot of new generation families in Lahaina are Filipinos. Homes are gone, our friends just left there. It’s pretty bad over here,” Furukaw said.

Authorities said the death toll has so far reached 93 but said the number could still go up as search teams with cadaver dogs look for bodies.

The Maui wildfires fanned by winds of a distant hurricane erupted Tuesday and have torched 1,000 buildings and left thousands homeless.

“The number of casualties is still going up; we don’t know who they are yet, so search and rescue is still ongoing. We have many, many names in shelters. We have papers upon papers with names of people missing, so search and rescue is still ongoing.

People are still looking for friends and family, so it’s pretty raw. I can give you the situation on the ground like that, but it’s very bad and very depressing here,” Furukaw said.

Hawaii Filipino-American Senator Gilbert Keith Agaran said many Filipino houses were among those burned in the massive wildfire in Lahaina.

Agaran said the Filipino population in Lahaina is significant, and many of them lost their homes.

“Filipinos are a significant number of Lahaina’s population. We lost quite a few people, and a lot of our fellow Filipinos lost everything or a considerable amount of their housing and possessions,” Agaran said.

Hawaii Consul General Emilio Fernandez said authorities are currently focused on search and recovery efforts, which is why the consulate hasn’t received official information about the burned houses of Filipino nationals.

“Given the significant number of Filipino-Americans residing in Hawaii, including Maui, we can expect to have several members of the Filipino American community whose homes have burnt down. Exact figures from local authorities on this matter are not yet available. The consulate continues to coordinate with local authorities to obtain the latest information,” Fernandez said.

There is no electricity, and communication is difficult in Lahaina, which is severely affected by the wildfires.

More than 1,000 people have been reported missing, and around 1,700 structures have been burned, according to the latest report from Hawaii Governor Josh Green.

Cadaver dogs from various parts of America have arrived in Lahaina to help search for the missing tourists and residents.

On Sunday, the Department of Foreign Affairs said there is still no report of Filipino deaths arising from the raging wildfires on the island of Maui, Hawaii.

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Eduardo de Vega said at least 80 people have died, while a thousand more remain missing due to the wildfires, but none of them were confirmed as Filipinos.

“There is still no news. Eighty people died. We still don’t have confirmation that there were Filipinos. Let’s pray,” De Vega said in an interview with radio dzBB.

De Vega said there were 25,000 Filipino-Americans in Maui, which comprised 17 percent of the island’s population. In total, 200,000 Filipino-Americans were staying or working in the state of Hawaii.

De Vega said it was possible that hundreds of Filipinos are missing, but authorities were still gathering data as the internet and communication lines to the island were still down.

“The Filipinos were not staying in the forest. They were not exactly where the fire was, but they were close to it. There are neighborhoods where houses have burned down. Filipinos who work in tourist resorts or hotels who went missing might have lost contact or were evacuated,” he added.

De Vega also said that there were no reports of Filipinos being evacuated to Hawaii’s capital, Honolulu.

“No Filipinos were transferred to Honolulu… They are all still in Maui. The situation will be clearer within 24 to 48 hours,” De Vega said.

On Saturday, anger was growing over the official response to an inferno that leveled a Hawaiian town, killing at least 93 people in the deadliest wildfire in the United States for over 100 years.

More than 2,200 structures were damaged or destroyed as the fire tore through Lahaina, according to official estimates, wreaking $5.5 billion in damage and leaving thousands homeless.

Hawaiian authorities have begun a probe into the handling of the fire, with residents saying there had been no warning.

“The mountain behind us caught on fire and nobody told us jack,” Vilma Reed said.

“You know when we found that there was a fire? When it was across the street from us.”

Reed, whose house was destroyed by the blaze, said she was depending on handouts and the kindness of strangers.

“This is my home now,” the 63-year-old said, gesturing to the car she has been sleeping in with her daughter, grandson and two cats.

Lahaina, a town of more than 12,000 and former home of the Hawaiian royal family, has been reduced to ruins, its lively hotels and restaurants turned to ashes.

A banyan tree at the center of the community for 150 years has been scarred by the flames but still stands upright, its branches denuded and sooty trunk transformed into an awkward skeleton.

The County of Maui said in a Saturday night update the number of confirmed fatalities had increased to 93, up from 89.

Governor Josh Green had warned that the official death toll was bound to grow.

“It’s going to continue to rise. We want to brace people for that,” he said.

The new toll makes the blaze the deadliest in the United States since 1918, when 453 people died in Minnesota and Wisconsin, according to the non-profit research group the National Fire Protection Association.

The death toll surpassed 2018’s Camp Fire in California, which virtually wiped the small town of Paradise off the map and killed 86 people.

Maui Police Chief John Pelletier said only a small fraction of the disaster zone has been searched and only two victims have been identified because of how badly they were burned.

“The remains we’re finding are from a fire that melted metal,” he said. “We have to do rapid DNA to identify every one of these.

“When we pick up the remains… they fall apart.” – With AFP

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