Menacing smoke began blanketing Lahaina by late Tuesday afternoon, causing residents to take quick action to escape pending disaster. (Courtesy Beth Zivitski)
Once Fanny Fong decided to flee the flames in Lahaina on Aug. 8, she was out the door so fast she didn’t even bother to put on her shoes.
It was the in-her-face willfulness of her 8-year-old daughter that convinced Yayoi Hara to leap into the car with her family and speed off to safety.
When Mike Cicchino jumped into the ocean, he had to abandon his car and figure out a way to transport the five dogs that had been entrusted to his care, carrying the two smallest in his arms as he headed toward the water.
Many harrowing survival stories have emerged from the ashes of the terrible fire that nearly destroyed Lahaina on Aug. 8. But among the tales a common theme has emerged.
In the absence of government warnings or alerts, one thing that most of the survivors share is that, on their own, they made a split-second decision — sacrificing possessions, walking away from their cars, breaking traffic laws or defying police, all because they had the presence of mind to recognize the imminence of risk and to take quick action to escape.
Some sped the opposite way on one-way roads to get around the traffic gridlock on Lahainaluna Road. Some drove on the wrong side of the street and careened up on sidewalks to get around the fatal chokepoints. Some reportedly used cars as battering rams to pass through obstacles when terrified fellow motorists refused to let them cross the lane through traffic-clogged streets. Some jumped into cars with strangers to hitch a ride to survival. Some jumped into the ocean, confronting turbulent waves and hypothermia to escape the flames.
They went with their gut instincts, even as what they did was at odds with conventional behavior.
This is a known phenomenon.
According to Amanda Ripley, author of “The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes — And Why,” published in 2009, disaster victims first struggle with disbelief at what is unfolding, then enter what she called “frantic deliberation” before plunging into action. The biggest danger is procrastination, she reported, deciding to do nothing or moving too slowly in the face of danger.
Many who die in any disaster, of course, are overwhelmed by circumstances that spiral out of control. Those with limited mobility or age-related disabilities may also lack the ability to evacuate a dangerous situation quickly.