West Maui wildfires show US in decline
Published: Aug 18, 2023 08:24 PM
An aerial image shows destroyed homes in the aftermath of the Maui wildfires in Lahaina, Hawaii, on August 17, 2023. Photo: VCG

An aerial image shows destroyed homes in the aftermath of the Maui wildfires in Lahaina, Hawaii, on August 17, 2023. Photo: VCG

The US government had long garnered an outstanding reputation for acting with tremendous zeal when confronted by natural disasters. It's what made America great but times have changed and US citizens are more vulnerable than ever before to the threats of wildfires, droughts, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes. Washington has begun to wane in protecting its citizens when natural disasters strike and the consequences will be long-lasting.

Ironically, US President Joe Biden, a Democrat, has shown little love for Hawaii. On Sunday, he was seen sunbathing at Rehoboth Beach near his family home in Delaware at the tail end of his 14-day vacation. 

While the good people on the island of West Maui in Hawaii were recovering from the devastating wildfires that had spread last Tuesday on August 8, a reporter asked Biden for his response to the deadliest US wildfires in over 100 years. "No comment," President Biden said.

Nonetheless, the Aloha State stands tall as a Democrat Party super majority state. All state-wide and federally elected officials, including the governor, lieutenant governor, US senators and representatives are Democrats. According to the Hawaii State Legislature Website, the Hawaii State Senate has only 2 Republicans out of 25 members and the Hawaii State Representatives has only 6 Republicans out of 53 members.

One would likely conclude that Biden should care more deeply about Hawaii, considering its strong Democratic Party leanings there. Instead, the world saw first-hand how the US government and its elected officials have shown little regard for the care and compassion of its ordinary US citizens. 

Additionally, we are witnessing clear signals that the mighty American Empire has begun to decline as the US federal government, as well as local and state officials have failed to respond to natural disasters in its territories in a more proactive and responsible manner. 

As more details get leaked in media reports, we are discovering that water shortages, delayed warning messages to the local communities, along with faulty infrastructure had worsened a wildfire that could have been contained and extinguished in the early hours of the morning. 

Yet, due to failed communications and intentionally shut down water pipelines, the fires had spread out of control all day in West Maui, especially in the area of the popular holiday resort town of Lahaina.

Nearly 80 years ago, the US government launched a publicity campaign known as "Smokey the Bear." The bear mascot emphasized the slogan, "only you can prevent forest fires" and it was intended to warn the public that wildfires are deadly but they can be preventable.

In the ensuing years, the US government has made remarkable progress in responding to natural disasters and helping with recovery efforts with strong support from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) along with effective coordination from the White House. 

Washington's robust response to natural disasters, no matter how destructive and traumatic, had shown US strength to the world. But that's not so anymore. It's also believed that the death toll of 111 killed in Maui wildfires was a low estimate since crews would likely uncover hundreds of more bodies when searching through the rubble in homes, buildings and streets in the weeks to come.

Meanwhile, a few Americans in Hawaii did not take steps to contain the wildfires after a power line burst at approximately at 6:37 am on Tuesday near the grasslands. They witnessed the incident at early dawn and thought it would be a great opportunity to livestream the fires rather than to take appropriate steps to douse the fires.

The American "look at me" spirit, had backfired, no pun intended. And when the wildfires spread more out of control, it was too late to reverse course.

Firefighters could not come to the rescue, since Hawaii's Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) had delayed opening water pipelines for fire hydrants in Western Maui. According to the Honolulu Civil Beat Website, M Kaleo Manuel, the DLNR deputy director of water resources management, refused to release the water until the fire spread to a wildland area.

According to media reports, the resort town of Lahaina was hard hit, but local residents and visitors didn't receive urgent evacuation messages until after 4 pm, over nine hours after the fires started. The city was struck by power outages and cell phone service disruptions but the managers at local hotels and restaurants were not aware of the impending dangers.

No sirens in the state were blaring at any time that day in Hawaii. The gusty winds and a drought were creating the right conditions for catastrophic wildfires. Nonetheless, local government officials, emergency responders and public messaging were not working properly when prompt actions could have saved many lives.

The world is left to ask: What has happened to the US? President Biden's "no comment" stunned the American public and we are left to wonder why did Hawaii, a Democrat super majority state, not receive more empathy from US President Biden. 

We can only conclude that Biden and Hawaii's failures serve as a testament to the US as a weakened nation. Due to government incompetence, delayed actions and apathetic attitudes, West Maui was left to burn in a blazing inferno while President Biden was relaxing on a beach in Delaware. It's yet another symbol of failed leadership.

The author is a commentator on Asia-Pacific affairs. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn