Maui emergency chief resigns after criticism over Hawaii wildfire response | News


Herman Andaya, head of Maui Emergency Management Agency, had defended his decision not to sound powerful warning sirens as a deadly wildfire ripped through Lahaina.

The head of Maui’s emergency management agency has resigned after coming under criticism for not activating the island-wide network as fast-moving flames bore down on the Hawaiian town of Lahaina.

“Today Mayor Richard Bissen accepted the resignation of Maui Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) Administrator Herman Andaya,” a Maui County press release said on Thursday.

“Citing health reasons, Andaya submitted his resignation effective immediately.”

At least 111 people are known to have died in what was the deadliest wildfire in the United States in over a century. The final toll is expected to be considerably higher.

Andaya said this week he did not regret the decision to not sound powerful warning sirens as a deadly wildfire ripped through the city.

Many of those who were killed are believed to have been trapped in their homes or caught in their cars as they made a desperate last-minute bid to escape.

Andaya’s decision not to activate the sirens is one of a number of perceived missteps by local officials before, during and after the blaze which have angered survivors, who say more lives could have been saved.

Mobile phone networks and the electricity supply were knocked out, limiting the channels by which alerts are usually delivered.

“The sirens are used primarily for tsunamis. The public is trained to seek higher ground in the event that the siren is sounded,” Andaya had told a news conference on Wednesday.

“Had we sounded the siren that night, we’re afraid that people would have gone [into the hills]… into the fire.”

He also wondered whether anyone would have noticed if the sirens had blared their 121-decibel warning – a level the American Academy of Audiology says is equivalent to a jet plane taking off.

“A lot of people who are indoors, air conditioning on whatever the case may be, they’re not going to hear the siren,” he said.

“Plus the winds were very gusty [that day]… it was very loud, so they wouldn’t have heard the sirens.”

Asked if he regretted the decision not to activate the system, he replied: “I do not.”

Hawaii’s Governor Josh Green last week ordered a probe into the preparations for and response to the tragedy, to see if lessons can be learned.

Hawaii’s attorney general, Anne Lopez, said on Thursday she would appoint an independent body to carry out the inquiry.

“Having a third party conduct the review will ensure accountability and transparency and reassure the people of Hawaii that all of the facts will be uncovered,” she said.

US President Joe Biden is expected to visit Maui on Monday


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