Photo: Courtesy Beth Zivitski
Even as the public awaits a detailed analysis of the evacuation of Lahaina on Aug. 8, eyewitness accounts are raising questions about the official narrative of the catastrophic fire.
Why, for instance, were vehicles directed away from escape routes because of downed power lines when Hawaiian Electric says that the lines were not energized?
Maui Police Chief John Pelletier says that police tried to keep vehicles away from fallen power lines, which they believed to be electrified. But HECO says the lines actually were “de-energized” more than six hours before the fire started its rapid spread.
The utility, meanwhile, says that it was unaware that any of its vehicles or crews blocked roads or evacuation routes.
Yet Lahaina resident Amanda Cassidy told Civil Beat that on the south end of town, she encountered utility crews blocking lanes where Front Street met Route 30, contributing to the traffic as she, her brother and her boyfriend fled by car.
“I know 100% that there were utility workers … and they were blocking the lane. They weren’t allowing people to pass,” Cassidy said.
“There was only one lane open because we had to go around them. They were blocking it, and they were only letting a certain amount of people go at a time.”
Cassidy said she didn’t see any police officers or other emergency personnel as they crossed through that intersection. The utility crews also had a truck blocking lanes there as they worked on nearby downed poles. “They were telling people what to do,” she said.
Pelletier has said that police aimed to keep vehicles “away from the danger.”
Multiple survivors of the ordeal say that police at certain times that afternoon directed cars away from those main routes, pushing them instead onto narrower streets. There, they inched forward at agonizingly slow speeds as the wildfire swiftly descended, moving to the north and the west.
“Being stuck on those little tiny roads with nowhere to go, you just can’t kind of help but feel like you were a rat stuck in a maze,” said Noelani Todt, who got mired in gridlock with her mother and three children, ages 14, 5 and 3, as they fled north through town.
“But you couldn’t move. You literally were just stuck,” Todt added. It took her family about two and a half hours to navigate through Lahaina from their home near Lahainaluna Road to an acquaintance’s house a safe distance away to the north, in Napili. Typically that drive takes about 20 minutes.
Maui police and other county authorities continue to withhold evacuation details despite the enormous public interest and repeated attempts by Civil Beat and other media outlets to get answers.
Pelletier has instead implored the public to wait for an official “after-action” report to get details — but he hasn’t said when that report might be available.
To what extent the police and other emergency personnel blocked traffic – and at what points in time during the fire – remains unclear.