President Biden, speaking in Maui on Monday, pledged the federal government will assist recovery from the Maui fires “for as long as it takes,” and all indications are that it will take quite a while. The death toll of what is already the deadliest wildfire in modern U.S. history is expected to grow with 114 people confirmed dead and another 850 still unaccounted for.
Water on the island of Maui is so contaminated that county officials told residents not to even try to filter their water because there is no “way to make it safe.” Even the most robust whole-home filtration systems “will remove some of [the contamination], but levels that will be acutely and immediately toxic will get through,” Andrew Whelton, a Purdue University expert on urban fire water contamination, told the AP.
The Maui fires are also expected to have “downward, spiral-like impacts” on local agriculture and food production, Ohio State University agricultural economist Seungki Lee told Axios. The destruction of the Maui fires is also particularly devastating for the island’s immigrant communities, some of whom died, are missing, or — like Philliones-born Freddy Tomas whose safe was popped open by the wind-fueled fires — lost everything they own.
‘The map looks like a civilization video game right before game over’
“A lot of those folks are nervous about applying for any kind of help,” Immigration attorney Kevin Block told the AP. “When FEMA rolls into town or when there’s government agencies around or even medical help, they’re very scared to get it because they’re scared of getting deported. … They are working as first responders, providing food, delivering supplies,” Block added. “They are right there with everybody else checking to see who needs help. It’s become more apparent than ever how vital they are to the community.” FEMA says anyone affected by the fires may be eligible for assistance.
“The map looks like a civilization video game right before game over,” Kaniela Ing, head of the Green New Deal network, a former Hawai’i state representative, and a seventh-generation Indigenous Hawaiian, told E&E News. “If there was ever a time to call a climate emergency, it’s now. In real life, not just practically.” (Biden visit: Washington Post $, AP, The Messenger, NPR, The Hill, BBC; Dead/missing: AP, The Hill, HuffPost, Gizmodo; Toxic water: AP; Food: Axios; Immigrants: AP; Wind: Reuters; Emergency declaration: E&E News; Climate Signals background: Wildfires)