LAHAINA, Hawaii (AP) — Parishioners mourned the dead and prayed for the missing Sunday in Hawaii churches as communities began looking ahead to a long recovery from last week’s wildfire that demolished a historic Maui town and killed more than 90 people.
Maria Lanakila Church in Lahaina was spared from the flames that wiped out most of the surrounding community, but with search-and-recovery efforts ongoing, its members attended Mass about 10 miles up the road, with the Bishop of Honolulu, the Rev. Clarence “Larry” Silva, presiding.
Taufa Samisoni said his uncle, aunt, cousin and the cousin’s 7-year-old son were found dead inside a burned car. Samisoni’s wife, Katalina, said the family would draw comfort from Silva’s reference to the Bible story of how Jesus’ disciple Peter walked on water and was saved from drowning.
“If Peter can walk on water, yes we can. We will get to the shore,” she said, her voice quivering.
During the Mass, Silva read a message from Pope Francis, who said he was praying for those who lost loved ones, homes and livelihoods. He also conveyed prayers for first responders.
Silva later told The Associated Press that the community is worried about its children, who have witnessed tragedy and are anxious.
“The more they can be in a normal situation with their peers and learning and having fun, I think the better off they’ll be,” Silva said.
Meanwhile, Hawaii officials urged tourists to avoid traveling to Maui as many hotels prepared to house evacuees and first responders.
About 46,000 residents and visitors have flown out of Kahului Airport in West Maui since the devastation in Lahaina became clear Wednesday, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
“In the weeks ahead, the collective resources and attention of the federal, state and county government, the West Maui community, and the travel industry must be focused on the recovery of residents who were forced to evacuate their homes and businesses,” the agency said in a statement late Saturday. Tourists are encouraged to visit Hawaii’s other islands.
Gov. Josh Green said 500 hotels rooms will be made available for locals who have been displaced. An additional 500 rooms will be set aside for workers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Some hotels will carry on with normal business to help preserve jobs and sustain the local economy, Green said.
The state wants to work with Airbnb to make sure that rental homes can be made available for locals. Green hopes that the company will be able to provide three- to nine-month rentals for those who have lost homes.
“There’s very little left there,” Green said, holding up a map of the area titled “Buildings Damaged in Maui Wildfires Lahaina Area.”
More than 2,700 structures were destroyed in Lahaina and “an estimated value of $5.6 billion has gone away.” But mostly there are people suffering and the government is continuing to work to find them, he said in a video statement Sunday,
As the death toll around Lahaina climbed to 96 authorities warned that the effort to find and identify the dead was still in its early stages. The blaze is already the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a century.
“I will tell you this, as a physician, it is a harrowing sight in Maui,” Green said. “When those providers, the police and this division, do come across scenes in houses or businesses it is very difficult for them because they know, ultimately, they will be sharing with our people that there have been more fatalities. I do expect the numbers to rise.”
Crews with cadaver dogs have covered just 3% of the search area, Maui Police Chief John Pelletier said Saturday.
Lylas Kanemoto is awaiting word about the fate of her cousin, Glen Yoshino.
“I’m afraid he is gone because we have not heard from him, and he would’ve found a way to contact family. We are hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst,” Kanemoto said Sunday. Family members will submit DNA to help identify any remains.
The family was grieving the death of four other relatives. The remains of Faaso and Malui Fonua Tone, their daughter, Salote Takafua, and her son, Tony Takafua, were found inside a charred car.
“At least we have closure for them, but the loss and heartbreak is unbearable for many,” Kanemoto said.
As many as 4,500 people are in need of shelter, county officials said on Facebook, citing figures from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Pacific Disaster Center.
J.P. Mayoga, a cook at the Westin Maui in Kaanapali, is still making breakfast, lunch and dinner on a daily basis. But instead of serving hotel guests, he’s been feeding the roughly 200 hotel employees and their family members who have been living there since Tuesday’s fire devastated the Lahaina community just south of the resort.
His home and that of his father were spared. But his girlfriend, two young daughters, father and another local are all staying in a hotel room together, as it is safer than Lahaina, which is covered in toxic debris.
Maui water officials warned Lahaina and Kula residents not to drink running water, which may be contaminated even after boiling, and to only take short, lukewarm showers in well-ventilated rooms to avoid possible chemical vapor exposure.
“Everybody has their story, and everybody lost something. So everybody can be there for each other, and they understand what’s going on in each other’s lives,” he said of his co-workers at the hotel.
Hawaii Island Mayor Mitch Roth warned that the recovery effort will be a “marathon not a sprint.” In order to keep the effort “coordinated and thoughtful,” Roth urged Hawaii residents to contribute money to established nonprofits and hold off on donating physical items because there is not yet a reliable distribution system in place.
The latest death toll surpassed that of the 2018 Camp Fire in northern California, which left 85 dead and destroyed the town of Paradise.
The cause of the wildfires is under investigation. The fires are Hawaii’s deadliest natural disaster in decades, surpassing a 1960 tsunami that killed 61 people. An even deadlier tsunami in 1946 killed more than 150 on the Big Island.
Fueled by a dry summer and strong winds from a passing hurricane, the flames on Maui raced through parched brush covering the island.
The most serious blaze swept into Lahaina on Tuesday and destroyed nearly every building in the town of 13,000, leaving a grid of gray rubble wedged between the blue ocean and lush green slopes.
Elsewhere on Maui, at least two other fires have been burning: in south Maui’s Kihei area and in the mountainous, inland communities known as Upcountry. No fatalities have been reported from those blazes.
Weber reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press journalists Haven Daley in Kalapua, Hawaii; Ty O’Neil in Lahaina, Hawaii; Bobby Caina Calvan and Beatrice Dupuy in New York; Sara Cline in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and Pat Eaton-Robb in Hartford, Connecticut, contributed to this report.
Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.