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Maui’s Head of Emergency Management Steps Down Amid Controversy

Maui’s Head of Emergency Management Steps Down Amid Controversy

In a recent development, Herman Andaya, the administrator of Maui County Emergency Management, has tendered his resignation following criticism from local residents and media regarding the island’s response to the devastating wildfires that claimed the lives of at least 111 individuals. Officials have confirmed the resignation, which comes after a period of heightened scrutiny.

Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen attributed Andaya’s departure to health-related reasons. In light of the ongoing crisis, Bissen assured the public that a replacement would be identified promptly, with an announcement to be made shortly.

The decision comes on the heels of Andaya’s inaugural appearance at a press conference, which occurred more than a week after the catastrophic wildfires ravaged the area, leaving in their wake the destruction or impairment of 2,200 structures and an estimated $5.5 billion in damages. The incident has also left several hundred individuals unaccounted for.

Criticism arose from some Maui residents who contended that lives could have been spared if emergency sirens had been activated. However, Andaya’s department opted against their use, asserting that they would have proven ineffective and confusing. “The public is conditioned to seek higher ground upon hearing the siren,” Andaya explained during a tense press conference on Wednesday, where government responses during the fire were repeatedly questioned.

Addressing the aftermath of the wildfires, President Joe Biden asserted the unwavering commitment of the U.S. government to support the recovery, reconstruction, and mourning of Maui’s population. Speaking on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Biden disclosed that substantial aid had already been dispatched, including emergency personnel, meals, and essential supplies such as bedding and blankets.

In a poignant message, Biden affirmed, “We stand with you for as long as necessary.” The President announced his plans to visit Hawaii on Monday to assess the devastation, engage with first responders and survivors, and offer further solidarity.

In a bid to comprehensively scrutinize the actions taken before, during, and after the fire, Hawaii Attorney General Anne Lopez disclosed that an independent, third-party agency will be appointed to investigate the responses of both state and county officials. This investigation, which forms a part of a wider review led by Lopez, is projected to span several months.

Amid the upheaval, the Maui community has come together to support displaced Lahaina residents. Volunteers have offered assistance, donating supplies, distributing sustenance and water, and providing emotional solace to fellow residents who now find themselves in Maui County-run shelters, with friends and relatives, and in donated accommodations.

Reflecting on this collective effort, Louis Romero, a retired battalion chief from the island’s fire department, emphasized the strong bond within Maui: “We’re like a big family in Maui, an ‘ohana.’ You don’t need to share blood ties to be family. That’s just the Hawaiian way – supporting one another.”

Meanwhile, a reassignment has taken place within Hawaii’s water management sphere. Kaleo Manuel, the senior water manager, has been transferred to a different role. The state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources explained that this move aimed to allow Maui’s water management agency to focus exclusively on wildfire recovery.

It’s important to note that Manuel’s reassignment isn’t indicative of any wrongdoing. The Department clarified that this decision was in no way linked to his actions. The Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action also weighed in, asserting that the focus on Manuel may be a diversionary tactic, as releasing stream water into reservoirs earlier wouldn’t have had an impact on fighting the fire. These reservoirs are not connected to Lahaina’s hydrant system, and prevailing wind conditions hindered helicopter water retrieval efforts.

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