LAHAINA, Hawaii (AP) — Hawaii Gov. Josh Green vowed “to keep the land in local people’s hands” after a deadly wildfire that incinerated a historic Maui community, as the island’s schools began reopening and traffic resumed on a major road.

Green said at a Wednesday news conference that he had instructed the state attorney general to work toward a moratorium on land transactions in Lahaina, which he acknowledged will come with legal challenges.

“My intention from start to finish is to make sure that no one is victimized from a land grab,” Green said. “People are right now traumatized. Please do not approach them with an offer to buy their land. Do not approach their families saying they’ll be much better off if they make a deal. Because we’re not going to allow it.”

Also Wednesday, the number of dead reached 111, and Maui police said nine victims had been identified, and the families of five had been notified. A mobile morgue unit with additional coroners arrived Tuesday to help process and identify remains.

After a fast-moving wildfire consumed much of Lahaina about a week ago, concern spread that rebuilding would accelerate the town’s transformation into a tropical haven for affluent outsiders.

Green pledged to announce details of the moratorium by Friday. Green said he also wants to see a long-term moratorium on sales of land that won’t “benefit local people.”

Some signs of recovery emerged as public schools across Maui reopened, welcoming displaced students from Lahaina, and traffic resumed on a major road.

Sacred Hearts School in Lahaina was destroyed, and Principal Tonata Lolesio said lessons would resume in the coming weeks at another Catholic school. She said it was important for students to be with their friends, teachers and books, and not constantly thinking about the tragedy.

“I’m hoping to at least try to get some normalcy or get them in a room where they can continue to learn or just be in another environment where they can take their minds off of that,” she said.

At least three surviving schools in Lahaina were still being assessed after sustaining wind damage, Hawaii Department of Education Superintendent Keith Hayashi said.

“There’s still a lot of work to do, but overall the campuses and classrooms are in good condition structurally, which is encouraging,” Hayashi said in a video update. “We know the recovery effort is still in the early stages, and we continue to grieve the many lives lost.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency opened its first disaster recovery center on Maui, “an important first step” toward helping residents get information about assistance, FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell said Wednesday. They also can go there for updates on aid applications.

Criswell said she would accompany President Joe Biden on Monday when he visits to survey the damage and “bring hope.”

At Wednesday’s news conference, the head of the Maui Emergency Management Agency defended not sounding sirens during the fire. Hawaii has what it touts as the largest system of outdoor alert sirens in the world, created after a 1946 tsunami that killed more than 150 on the Big Island.

“We were afraid that people would have gone mauka,” said agency administrator Herman Andaya, using a navigational term that can mean toward the mountains or inland in Hawaiian. “If that was the case, then they would have gone into the fire.” There are no sirens in the mountains, where the fire was spreading downhill, he said.

Andaya said the sirens are primarily meant to warn about tsunamis and have never been used for wildfires. The website for the Maui siren system says they may be used to alert for fires.

State and local officials have also faced public criticism over shortages of water to fight the fire and a chaotic evacuation that saw many trapped in their vehicles on a jammed roadway as flames swept over them.

Avery Dagupion, whose family’s home was destroyed, is angry that residents weren’t given earlier warning to get out and that officials prematurely suggested danger had passed.

He pointed to an announcement by Maui Mayor Richard Bissen on Aug. 8 saying the fire had been contained, that he said lulled people into a sense of safety and left him distrusting officials.

At the news conference, Green and Bissen bristled when asked about such criticism.

“Did mistakes happen? Absolutely,” the governor said, later adding: “You can look here to see who you can trust,” referring to the police, fire, emergency and Red Cross officials standing behind him.

“I can’t answer why people don’t trust people,” Bissen said. “The people who were trying to put out these fires lived in those homes — 25 of our firefighters lost their homes. You think they were doing a halfway job?”

Kimberly Buen was awaiting word Wednesday of her father, Maurice “Shadow” Buen, a retired sport fisherman who lived in an assisted-living facility that was destroyed.

The 79-year-old was blind in one eye, partially blind in the other and used a walker or an electric scooter to get around. In recent weeks he also had swollen feet.

“For him, there is no moving quickly,” Buen said. The stories from survivors who fled the fast-moving flames terrified her.

“If able-bodied people were having to run and jump into the ocean, I can only imagine what’s happened to the assisted living and the lower income and the elderly people that didn’t have warning, you know, or have any resources to get out,” she said.

The cause of the wildfires, the deadliest in the U.S. in more than a century, is under investigation. Hawaii is increasingly at risk from disasters, with wildfire rising fastest, according to an Associated Press analysis of FEMA records.


Kelleher reported from Honolulu and Weber from Los Angeles. Associated Press journalists Haven Daley in Kalapua, Hawaii; Kathy McCormack in Concord, New Hampshire; Jennifer McDermott in Providence, Rhode Island; Seth Borenstein in Washington, D.C.; and Heather Hollingsworth in Kansas City, Missouri, contributed.


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