Maui emergency chief steps down amid criticism for Hawaii wildfire response


The head of Maui’s emergency management agency, Herman Andaya, has tendered his resignation amid mounting criticism over the handling of the swift-moving wildfire that engulfed the Hawaiian town of Lahaina.

This decision follows accusations that the island-wide network was not activated promptly enough as the flames rapidly approached. In a press release issued by Maui County on Thursday, it was stated, “Today Mayor Richard Bissen accepted the resignation of Maui Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) Administrator Herman Andaya,” citing health reasons as the cause for his immediate departure.

The death toll resulting from the deadliest wildfire in the United States in over a century has reached 111, and this number is anticipated to rise significantly. Andaya defended his choice to refrain from activating powerful warning sirens as the destructive wildfire swept through the city.

“The victims, many of whom lost their lives while trapped in their homes or vehicles during their desperate attempts to escape, are voicing frustration over perceived missteps by local officials in their response to, during, and following the catastrophe”.

“Andaya’s decision to withhold the activation of the sirens stands out among a series of perceived errors that survivors and affected community members believe could have prevented more casualties. The loss of mobile phone networks and electricity further hindered the usual channels for alert communication. Explaining his reasoning, Andaya stated during a news conference on Wednesday, “The sirens are used primarily for tsunamis”.

“The public is trained to seek higher ground in the event that the siren is sounded. Had we sounded the siren that night, we’re afraid that people would have gone [into the hills]… into the fire.” He also questioned the effectiveness of the 121-decibel siren warning, likening it to the noise of a jet plane taking off, according to the American Academy of Audiology”.

“In light of the controversy, there are calls for an independent review to ensure accountability and transparency regarding the sequence of events. This move aims to reassure Hawaii’s population that all relevant information will be uncovered. President Joe Biden is slated to visit Maui on Monday, suggesting the gravity of the situation and the need for comprehensive evaluation”.

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