Sunday, March 3, 2024

As Number of Dead in Maui Wildfires Reaches 99, Stories of Heroes, Miracles Emerge

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Hawaii’s governor reports at least 99 people have lost their lives in the wildfires that burned on the island of Maui. The fires are the deadliest to hit a U.S. state in more than 100 years. Their cause is under investigation.

Meteorologists say the fast-moving, dry winds generated by Hurricane Dora triggered the firestorm that reached historic proportions. One fire moved as fast as a mile (1.6 kilometers) every minute.

A week after a blaze tore through historic Lahaina, hundreds of people are still missing, and the number of dead is expected to keep rising.

Gov. Josh Green said, “It’s going to be emotionally catastrophic.”

Green asked for patience and space to do the search properly as authorities became overwhelmed with requests to visit the burn area.

“For those people who have walked into Lahaina because they really wanted to see, know that they’re very likely walking on iwi,” he said at a news conference on Maui, using the Hawaiian word for “bones.”

In an interview with CBS that aired earlier Monday, Green estimated searchers will find the remains of 10 to 20 people per day until they finish their work. “And it’s probably going to take 10 days. It’s impossible to guess, really,” he said.

The blaze that swept into centuries-old Lahaina last week destroyed nearly every building in the port town of 13,000. That fire has been 85% contained, according to the county. Another blaze known as the Upcountry Fire has been 65% contained.

Among the firefighters who fought the blaze, 17 of those who lived in Lahaina lost their own homes.

Even where the fire has retreated, authorities have warned that toxic byproducts may remain, including in drinking water, after the flames spewed poisonous fumes. That has left many unable to return home.

Stories of Heroes, Miracles Emerge

Stories are surfacing of people sacrificing themselves to help others. The family of Joe Schilling says he died a hero, trying to assist his elderly neighbors.

Mike Cicchino and his wife were trapped on the beach. They took off their shirts, dunked them in water, and tried to cover their faces. Cicchino ran up and down the seawall, shouting his lost dogs’ names. He saw dead bodies slumped next to the wall. “Help me,” people screamed. Elderly and disabled people couldn’t make it over the wall on their own. Some were badly burned, and Cicchino lifted as many as he could. He ran until he vomited from the smoke, his eyes nearly swollen shut.

Standing through the wildfires, a few miracles have also come to light after the fires were extinguished.  Even though, the wildfires burned more than 2,000 buildings, a Maui church building that’s a part of Pastor Greg Laurie’s Harvest Christian Fellowship network was not damaged, according to The Christian Post (CP). 

But several members of the Lahaina-based congregation known as Harvest Kumulani lost their homes, and in some cases, their places of employment. 

Josh Morris, executive director of strategy and advancement at Harvest told the CP in an email, “The congregation has been impacted by the wildfires, their hope remains secure in Jesus Christ and the comfort He offers to His church.”

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Amazingly, another church building in Lahaina is also still standing amid the rubble of downtown. 

A video posted to TikTok shows the Maria Lanakila Catholic Church still standing, according to The Daily Mail. 

The historic church, built in 1846, is seen in the video standing with its stained glass and tower structure in place even as the ground around it smolders, according to the outlet. 

In a Facebook post, John Douglas posted two photos of the church building. 

“The Maria Lanakila Catholic Church, located in downtown Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii. In the first photo, you can see everything around it burned to the ground. The photo on the right was taken AFTER the fire, the church is untouched. Like Daniel in the lion’s den, so too was this church untouched in what must have seemed like being in the pits of hell during the fire. Glory to God where nothing is impossible,” Douglass wrote. 

Relief Effort Underway

Meanwhile, representatives of CBN’s Operation Blessing are in Hawaii, purchasing supplies and working with partners like “Youth with a Mission” to get the supplies to those in need.

Operation Blessing’s disaster relief team is supplying partner efforts in affected areas to help those in greatest need. We’re providing critical relief items including tents, clothing, hygiene supplies, tarps, lanterns, generators, grills and propane for cooking, etc. to help displaced people survive. Please pray for disaster victims and those coordinating relief. 

CLICK HERE to Help Operation Blessing Provide Relief 

In addition, CityServe is distributing a quarter-million meals after the Maui wildfires with the help of local churches. Kings Cathedral Church Maui has been named the primary distribution point, but other local churches are involved as well to help families that survived the raging firestorm with little more than the clothes on their backs.    

More than 3,000 people have registered for federal assistance, according to FEMA, and that number was expected to grow.

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