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Maui Emergency Management Agency Chief Herman Andaya resigned Thursday, citing “health reasons,” a day after explaining his decision to skip using emergency sirens to alert residents to the deadly fire that tore through the island last week.
Andaya spoke during a press conference Wednesday and defended his decision not to use Maui’s emergency sirens, and instead send out alerts through text messages, radio, and TV. Andaya said the emergency sirens are usually used for tsunami warnings, which tell Hawaiians to seek higher ground, but that would’ve been toward the fire.
Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen accepted Anday’s resignation Thursday “effective immediately,” NBC News reported.
“Given the gravity of the crisis we are facing, my team and I will be placing someone in this key position as quickly as possible and I look forward to making that announcement soon,” Bissen said.
Reporter grills Maui Emergency Operations Chief Herman Andaya over not sounding the alarm on Maui.
Andaya: “The public is trained to seek higher ground in the event that the sirens sounded. If that was the case, then they would've gone into the fire." pic.twitter.com/pkOVEfUVwB
— Citizen Free Press (@CitizenFreePres) August 17, 2023
Andaya also faced criticism for his absence from Maui the day the fires on the island began to spread until the day after the city of Lahaina was burned. During a press conference last week, the emergency management chief acknowledged that he was at an Oahu resort for a conference when the wildfires began, Hawaii News Now reported. According to receipts obtained by the outlet, Andaya checked into the Alohilani Resort in Waikiki a day before the fires started and checked out two days later.
Governor Josh Green (D-HI), who defended Andaya during a Wednesday press conference, ordered an investigation into the cause of the fires and the emergency response but said it is not a criminal probe, according to The Daily Mail.
The death toll from the wildfires that raged last week has now hit 111 and includes children, but only around 40% of the burn area has been searched and over 1,000 people are likely still missing, according to the governor. Video footage shows that some of the many fires that burned on the island likely started from downed power lines.
Footage captured by a security camera at the Maui Bird Conservation Center last Monday showed the moment a power line sparked a blaze in the woods. The conservation center where the footage was taken from is in the small rural town of Makawao, just over 30 miles from where a massive fire turned much of the historic city of Lahaina to ash.
The Makawao fire was the first of multiple fires reported on the island last week. Prior to the fires, Maui faced strong winds from a hurricane hundreds of miles offshore. While the Makawao blaze didn’t reach Lahaina, it was one of the many fires sparked on the island last Monday and Tuesday that eventually reached the town of 13,000.