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Recovery teams in Lahaina still have a lot of area to search for wildfire victims


Some survivors of a fire in Maui are not satisfied with their dealings with the government so far.


That wildfire has killed 99 people, and authorities are still searching. They're keeping the area closed while they do. And that is one source of the tension between rescuers and the wider community.

INSKEEP: NPR's Lauren Sommer is in Maui. Hey there, Lauren.


INSKEEP: How much of the burned area is left for authorities to search?

SOMMER: About 25% of the area has been searched for human remains now. There are about 20 search dogs combing through the rubble of buildings still. So there's a lot more to do. And that's why state officials are saying the death toll is still likely to rise. They're also in the process of IDing those remains and have been asking families who are searching for loved ones to contribute DNA samples to help in that process. As that search goes on, you know, the burned area in Lahaina is closed off, even for people who live there. And the main roads into the area have also been restricted since the fire.

INSKEEP: OK. So now we're getting to the point of tension here, I think. How is that affecting the community that survived the fire?

SOMMER: It's been a big point of contention in the community. Local residents have been doing an amazing amount of heavy lifting, just organizing huge caravans of food by boat and truck. And some have had trouble getting that in. The state says it's brought in a million pounds of food. Hawaii Governor Josh Green says they've mobilized a lot of resources.


JOSH GREEN: The recovery from this tragedy is proceeding, and it's proceeding extremely vigorously.

INSKEEP: Does the community agree with that assessment?

SOMMER: I mean, walking around Lahaina, it's easy to see. Cell service is very weak and spotty. Some communities there are still lacking power and drinkable water. So many residents have been eager to do day trips to the rest of Maui, you know, to get supplies and connectivity. The most direct road has been restricted to residents since officials - they want to keep it open for trucks and emergency vehicles. Yesterday, officials announced a new system. Local residents had to come to a park to get a placard for their car. But when producer Jonaki Mehta and I walked up, they had called it off.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: We are taking that. We are canceling that. We are no longer doing the place cards.


SOMMER: They were told more than a thousand people had showed up. It totally overwhelmed the site, so they canceled the system altogether. And that's where we met Alex Calma. He lost his house in the fire. He's been staying with his parents. And his uncle is missing, and they're really fearing the worst.

ALEX CALMA: We want to find my uncle, but we want to go to the hospital.

SOMMER: His family is hoping to find any information at hospitals. But he's worried about leaving the area, since the checkpoint rules to get back in have changed several times already. And he was really hoping that placard would help.

INSKEEP: How are authorities explaining their various changes in who they let in and who they let out and how?

SOMMER: Yeah, I mean, they say residents have been able to use a checkpoint on the north side of Maui, which involves this very long car trip on a windy road. So there's a lot of frustration. Maui County Councilwoman Tamara Paltin - she was there in the park. We met her there. And she says state officials are making decisions that aren't always what the local community needs.

TAMARA PALTIN: You know, what I would like to see more of is more communication with us and more listening to us.

SOMMER: You know, emergency situations are always hard to manage. And recovery efforts - you know, you can't always see them. They're not always visible. But it's almost a week from when this fire started, and many residents in Lahaina are feeling they're having to do so much of this themselves.

INSKEEP: NPR's Lauren Sommer, thanks for your work.

SOMMER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Lauren Sommer covers climate change for NPR's Science Desk, from the scientists on the front lines of documenting the warming climate to the way those changes are reshaping communities and ecosystems around the world.