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Death toll hits 80 as Hawaii starts probe into wildfire handling

Late Friday, Maui County officials revised the death toll to 80, adding that 1,418 people were in emergency evacuation shelters.

The fires follow other extreme weather events in North America this summer, with record-breaking wildfires still burning across Canada and a major heat wave baking the US southwest.

Europe and parts of Asia have also endured soaring temperatures, with major fires and floods wreaking havoc. Scientists have said global warming caused by carbon emissions is contributing to the extreme weather.

REUNION

For some of those who made it back into Lahaina, there was elation as they tearfully reconnected with neighbours they feared might not have gotten out alive.

“You made it!” cried Chyna Cho, as she embraced Amber Langdon amid the ruins. “I was trying to find you.”

For some of the luckiest, there was joy – albeit tempered by the scale of the tragedy that counts among the worst natural disasters to hit the state of Hawaii.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” Keith Todd told AFP after finding his home intact.

“I’m so grateful, but at the same time it’s so devastating.”

Todd, 64, discovered his house and his neighbour’s house untouched, and his solar panels providing electricity to the fridge, which was still dispensing ice on demand.

But even those few whose homes still appeared habitable were being warned they might not be safe.

“Some structures in the Lahaina water system were destroyed by the fire … These conditions may have caused harmful contaminants, including benzene and other volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), to enter the water system,” said Maui’s water department.

“As a precaution … (we) are advising residents to not use the tap water for drinking and cooking until further notice.”

Fears of looting were also on residents’ minds.

“I heard people were looting the houses as the fire was coming down the hill. What you can think of that? Holy Christ,” said Todd.

“I will stay here, now that I know my house and my things are here. I will sleep here just in case someone tries to come in.”

County authorities said anyone accessing Lahaina would have to prove they lived or were staying at a hotel there, and that a curfew would be in place between 10pm and 6am.

“The curfew is intended to protect residences and property,” it said in a statement.

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