Poor response to Hawaii wildfires make US 'unlike a developed country'
Published: Aug 15, 2023 09:47 PM
Carcasses of cars can be seen among the ashes of burnt neighborhood in the aftermath of a wildfire, is seen in Lahaina, western Maui, Hawaii on August 14, 2023. Photo: VCG

Carcasses of cars can be seen among the ashes of burnt neighborhood in the aftermath of a wildfire, is seen in Lahaina, western Maui, Hawaii on August 14, 2023. Photo: VCG

Deadly wildfires in Hawaii, which caused the biggest death toll in more than a century in the US and forced thousands to evacuate from their homes, expose the incompetence of the US government, said analysts, with many local residents who survived the disaster posting videos on social media criticizing the problematic response of local authorities and poor early warning system. Residents also criticized US mainstream media reports, saying this was not just a natural disaster, but also a man-made calamity. 

Chinese analysts and web users are paying attention to the horrible tragedy that Americans have suffered, as the hashtags on Sina Weibo about "Hawaii wildfires" have received more than 71.52 million views on Tuesday. Experts said the response of the US government made the US look "unlike a developed country."

A massive blaze destroyed much of the town of Lahaina, on Maui over the weekend. As of Monday afternoon, officials confirmed 99 people have died. Hawaii Governor Josh Green told the media that the death toll would likely increase "very significantly" and could "double or even triple" over the next 10 days, according to CNN.

Green said on Sunday that there was "very little left" of Lahaina, and some 1,300 people remained missing, according to CBS News.

Many people including survivors uploaded videos to break the silence on social media networks to heavily criticize the incompetence of the government and the problematic response and early warning system. Some questioned reports by the mainstream media and said it was not a natural disaster, and the death toll could be far greater than reported.

Some of them said warning sirens did not sound and people received no warning about the wildfire, and they were not informed about evacuation. Some complained about the disorganized response and poor traffic system that trapped the people who wanted to escape and the rescue personnel who wanted to enter the island, and that donations have not been handed to the people in need. Some relief materials were looted as local authorities failed to restore public order.

Hawaii has got a massive outdoor public safety early warning system, with more than 400 sirens to remind people of threats like tsunamis, and Maui has 80 of these sirens, according to the Xinhua News Agency.

In 2018, the system mistakenly informed the people of Hawaii state that "a ballistic missile is coming" due to human error, and in 2019, the system went wrong again and caused panic among locals. But this time, it failed to warn people effectively, and the state attorney has vowed to investigate, Xinhua reported on Tuesday.

The Washington Post reported on Saturday that "Residents of Lahaina, the historic former Hawaiian capital that became an inferno," have criticized what they called inadequate warnings of the sudden firestorm and said they are now being left to fend for themselves in its wake.

"I feel like the citizens of this island have been called upon, maybe by a higher power, to actually help because no one else is helping," said Kai Lenny, a professional surfer, according to the Washington Post.

Many Chinese netizens do not understand why the powerful US military force can allow Americans to feel helpless during the disaster when the Pacific Fleet is right there in Hawaii. A comment said "why don't US military troops go to rescue their people in the disaster area?" In China, the military, police and other professional rescue forces will respond immediately to rescue people every time when disasters occur in any location in China.

Lü Xiang, an expert on US studies and a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that the response of the US military or national guards this time has no comparison to their fast reaction after the Capitol Hill attack in 2021, and this means the decision makers of the country did not pay enough attention to this disaster that caused huge casualties. 

"From the early warning system to the response after the disaster, the performance of the US government this time just makes the US look unlike a developed country," Lü said.

US President Joe Biden was in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, over the weekend and was asked during a bike ride on Sunday morning whether he would go to Maui to assess the devastation. He replied, "We're looking at it." After a visit to the beach later that day, Biden was asked about the rising death toll on the island and replied, "No comment," according to US media.

The comment sparked a backlash, Fox News reported, including by former Hawaii state representative Mark Kaniela Ing, a Democrat who now serves as national director of the Green New Deal Network. "I campaigned for you. Now, when I lose dozens of my friends, family, and neighbors. This?" Kaniela Ing wrote in a now-deleted post.

Kaniela Ing told Fox News Digital in a phone interview Monday that he found Biden's remark "shocking" and out of character.

This kind of disaster is closely related to climate change but the Biden administration shows limited sincerity in restoring international cooperation to handle climate change issues, said analysts, adding that a disaster like the Hawaii wildfires has not received enough attention from mainstream US media, and people from other states do not seem to care much what is happening in Hawaii.

Lü said "when I open the websites or apps of US mainstream media like The New York Times and CNN, the headline story today is about [former president] Donald Trump's legal issues, and other prominent news stories are about Ukraine, but the reports about the most deadly wildfire in more than a century in the US, while the death toll is keep updating, can only be found at the bottom."