Barricaded road trapped Maui victims: report

 August 24, 2023

Victims of the Maui wildfires were trapped by barricades that blocked the only road to safety.

A number of families managed to escape with their lives by ignoring government commands and driving around the barriers, the AP reported.

The harrowing story has raised further questions about the government's role in the disaster that incinerated Lahaina, killing at least 100 people, with over 850 still missing.

Barricades trapped Maui victims

The Lahaina Bypass, or Highway 30, is the only paved highway out of the town. But as the wildfires spread on August 8, access to the highway was blocked off by emergency crews responding to downed power lines.

Residents were corralled toward Front Street, a coastal road downtown that became crowded with cars - and quickly turned into a furnace.

Many of those who followed orders were left trapped between the fire and the ocean. But others followed their gut, managing to escape to safety.

38-year-old Kim Cuevas-Reyes, a mother of two boys, ignored orders to make a right on Front Street toward a civic center that was marked as a shelter - making a left instead to drive through wrong-way traffic.

“The gridlock would have left us there when the firestorm came,” said Cuevas-Reyes. “I would have had to tell my children to jump into the ocean as well and be boiled alive by the flames or we would have just died from smoke inhalation and roasted in the car.”

Police deny blocking escape

The road blockage was just one of several inexplicable failures that added up to a nightmare.

Residents had never received a warning from the island's sirens to evacuate, leading to a desperate crush to escape. And the downed power lines that blocked the exit - and which may have led to the fire in the first place - were never shut off.

When Nate Baird and Courtney Stapleton attempted to evacuate through Highway 30, they were told to turn back by emergency crews - but instead they drove around traffic cones.

“Nobody realized how little time we really had,” Baird said. “Like even us being from the heart of the fire, we did not comprehend. Like we literally had minutes and one wrong turn. We would all be dead right now."

Another family escaped by driving their four-wheel drive vehicle over a dirt road.

“We did not close or forbid people from getting out of Lahaina,” Maui Police Chief John Pelletier said. “If there was a downed power line that was live, we wanted to make sure that you didn’t go over a downed live power line."

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