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‘My husband is broken,’ Maui resident says, after he gave DNA in search for missing mom


By Bill Weir, CNN Chief Climate Correspondent

Waiehu, Hawaii (CNN) — Two days before the Maui inferno, Brenda Keau’s husband Tony called his mom for a chat. He didn’t worry when he didn’t reach her, figuring he would try again in a couple of days. “That opportunity never came,” Keau said.

Now he’s given his DNA, in case the remains of his 83-year-old mother are among the victims recovered by authorities but as yet unidentified.

The elderly woman’s home in Lahaina is gone, destroyed in the wildfires that swept across the Hawaiian island last week. And while they have no news of her, the family is preparing for the worst.

“My husband is broken. And I don’t like seeing him like that because my husband is strong, loving,” Keau said. “He doesn’t talk a lot. So I’m talking for him.”

Keau said she feared arson when she saw smoke rising from the hills of upcountry Maui, from her home in Waiehu, in the north of the island on August 8.

Investigations have been launched into what started the many different blazes that day that were then fanned by hurricane-force winds to create the deadliest US wildfire in more than a century.

Some of the dead are believed to have perished in the ocean after running into the waves to try to escape the flames.

“He saw bodies floating in the ocean when he was driving his truck on the side of the road,” Keau said of her husband. He works for a trash removal company and she is worried that working to clean up the ruins might make him physically ill, as well as suffering the trauma felt by everyone on Maui.

“I don’t understand how they think that anybody’s going to be OK after this,” she said.

Keau hopes the disaster will create a drive for more mental health facilities, or for Hawaii to develop sources of income not tied to tourism. And she believes healing will come.

“True to the nature of Hawaii – Hawaiians and the locals and the residents and those people like me whose heart is here – every catastrophe, every disaster, it’s not going to kill us. It’s just going to bring us closer together and make us stronger.”

Fighting flare-ups with bottled water

Inland from Keau’s home, in the upcountry hills where she saw the smoke, a wildfire is still only 60% contained.

With the Maui County Fire Department stretched painfully thin and winds kicking up once again, some residents around Kula are using sprinklers, hoping to protect their homes from another round of flames.

Volunteer first responders were even out trying to knock down hotspots and flare-ups with bottled water.

“There’s a smoldering pit over there, and all it needs is a good wind to get it going,” explained Merrill Kalopodes, who flew in from Oahu to help.

“It started off with just a little smoke and then we said, ‘OK, let’s get some water, haul it over there.’ And then by the time we got over there, it started flaming already.”

He and others had cases and jugs of water ready to pour on the sooty, smoky brush, as helicopters dumped larger loads gathered from swimming pools or ponds.

They were also trying to alert firefighters to what they were seeing, but were content to keep working on their volunteer bottle brigade.

“I’ve got my hands,” Kalopodes said. “I can use them.”

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