Maui authorities release 911 calls from deadly wildfires

Maui authorities released the audio recordings from 911 calls during the historic and deadly wildfires that quickly swept the tourist town Lahaina.

Through a public records request, The Associated Press obtained the responses from dispatchers that show how the fires overtook the town and how challenging it was for officials to respond to the chaos.

The calls released to the news organization covered a period from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on August 8. The fire, fueled by strong winds from a passing hurricane, killed 98 people and caused an estimated $5.5 billion in damage, leveling the historic tourist town of Lahaina.

The records show dispatchers became inundated by calls and increasingly powerless to provide help, eventually telling people to “leave if they have to leave,” the AP reported.

Advice ranged from seeking shelter at the Lahaina Civic Center, staying in their cars, or heading toward the ocean for safety. But the dispatcher’s advice was varied – and sometimes costly.

One official told a woman stuck in traffic to be patient before the street she was stuck on was swept in flames, causing a number of cars on that street to burn and people to die, the AP reported.

People called because they were stuck in cars, trapped by fallen trees and powerlines and worried about loved ones. The Maui Police Department said that there were 4,500 emergency texts and calls that day, the request found.

“It was an extremely dynamic situation that day, in which our dispatchers adapted to the best of their abilities,” Alana Pico, a police spokesperson, said in an email with the AP.

Some of the calls showed the difficulties that residents faced trying to leave. One caller said cars leaving the area were routed into a parking lot and eventually forced to turn around, another said they were blocked by a locked gate after going down a dirty road, the AP reported.

Police redacted names and addresses to protect releasing personal information, so it’s not clear if the people who called made it to safety.

The released calls show discrepancies in responses from dispatchers and an overwhelming amount of chaos with how to handle the unprecedented disaster.

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