Herman Andaya, the administer of the Maui Emergency Management Agency, resigned Thursday effective immediately.
His announcement came one day after he defended his decision to sound warning sirens ahead of this past week’s devastating wildfires on Maui. Hawaii has what it says is the largest system of outdoor alert sirens in the world. Maui itself has an 80-alarm all-hazard outdoor siren system.
That decision directed by Andaya, along with a shortages of water needed for firefighters and a vehicle-jammed escape route, drew angry criticism from many Maui residents as the combination created chaos amid the massive flames. At least 111 people died in the fires, and hundreds remain missing as recovery workers search the rubble.
The wildfires first erupted on the island early last Tuesday, August 8, fueled by fierce winds from Hurricane Dora in the Pacific. The town of Lahaina was hit the worst with the flames leaving little more than melted cars and scorched, skeletal remains of buildings.
At a news conference Wednesday, Andaya said he did not regret leaving the alarms silent, insisting that they would have sent many residents inland, meaning they “would have gone into the fire.”
Sen. Angus McKelvey (D), who represents Lahaina, scoffed at that argument. “I’ve heard the line that ‘people would have panicked and ran up to the mountains because it’s a tsunami siren.’…It’s insulting to think that people would be that clueless, that they wouldn’t know that sirens blasting was because of the fire,” he told CNN. “These are not tsunami sirens. They’re disaster sirens.”
Maui Mayor Richard Bissen accepted Andaya’s resignation, adding, “Given the gravity of the crisis we are facing, my team and I will be placing someone in this key position as quickly as possible.”
Though Andaya cited health reasons for his resignation, neither he or any other Maui or Hawaiian authorities have gone into detail regarding them.
Andaya is not the only one facing criticism. Several Lahaina residents have filed lawsuits in state court against Hawaiian Electric, asserting that its equipment was not strong enough to withstand the Hurricane-force winds and that the company should have known to shut down power before they arose.
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