The head of the Maui Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) has resigned amid growing criticism over his handling of the deadly wildfires that ravaged the island last week. Herman Andaya, who had no background in disaster response, stepped down on Thursday, citing “health reasons”.
His resignation came a day after he defended his decision not to activate the island’s warning sirens when the fires broke out on August 8, killing at least 111 people and destroying most of Lahaina, a historic community on the west coast of Maui.
Andaya said he did not use the sirens because they are mainly used for tsunamis and storms, and he feared that people would seek higher ground and run into the flames. He said he relied on wireless and emergency alerts to notify residents, but many of them reported receiving no text messages or radio or TV notifications. Some survivors also complained about water shortages that hampered firefighters and clogged escape routes.
Andaya’s resignation was announced by Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen, who said he would appoint a replacement as soon as possible. Bissen also faced criticism for his response to the wildfires, which are the deadliest in US history since 1918. Hawaii Governor David Ige has vowed to protect local landowners from being “victimized” by opportunistic buyers when Maui rebuilds from the disaster.
Meanwhile, Hawaii Attorney General Anne Lopez has launched an independent review of the government’s response to the wildfires, which are still under investigation. She said she would appoint an impartial body to conduct the probe, which could take months. As of Thursday, searchers had only covered 45% of the burned land, and hundreds of people remain unaccounted for.