Hawaii officials say ‘no regrets’ about lack of wildfire sirens
AFP | Lahaina
The Daily Tribune – www.newsofbahrain.com
Embattled officials in Hawaii who have been criticized for the lack of warnings as a deadly wildfire ripped through a town insisted Wednesday that sounding emergency sirens would not have saved lives.
At least 110 people died when the inferno levelled Lahaina last week on the island of Maui, with some residents not aware their town was at risk until they saw flames for themselves. But the head of Maui’s Emergency Management Agency, which operates a network of 80 sirens, on Wednesday defended the decision not to sound them as fire bore down on Lahaina’s more than 12,000 people.
“The sirens are used primarily for tsunamis. The public is trained to seek higher ground in the event that the siren is sounded,” Herman Andaya told a press conference. “Had we sounded the siren that night, we’re afraid that people would have gone (into the hills)... into the fire.”
Criticism has swelled since the disaster, with survivors complaining there were no official warnings, with the mobile phone networks and electricity supply knocked out, limiting the channels by which alerts are usually delivered.
Andaya on Wednesday queried 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 before-during-and-after of the tragedy, to see if lessons can be learned.
Survivors have complained that the government has been slow to help them; that the body recovery is inching along, and that they are being prevented from going back to their homes. Disaster officials have bristled at suggestions local people have lost trust in them, insisting it is outsiders who are complaining.
“You think that people that live here that are helping don’t care?” said Maui Mayor Richard Bissen at a sometimes-testy news conference. “Talk to the people born and raised here. Talk to the people who are trying to piece it together. The reason you should trust us is because this is our home.”