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Transcript: Hawaii Gov. Josh Green on "Face the Nation," August 20, 2023

"I wish all the sirens went off," Hawaii governor says
Hawaii Gov. Josh Green says "I wish all the sirens went off" on Maui during wildfires 08:59

The following is a transcript of an interview with Hawaii Gov. Josh Green that aired on "Face the Nation" on August 20, 2023.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We go now to Hawaii's Governor Joshua Green in Honolulu. Good morning. Thank you for getting up so early, and I'm so sorry for what is going on in your state. 

GOV. JOSH GREEN: Thank you, Margaret. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Governor, can you tell us how many are still unaccounted for, and how long will it take to identify remains?

GOV. GREEN: More than 1000 are unaccounted for, about 1050. It will take several weeks, still, some of the challenges are going to be extraordinary. As you reported, 85% of the- of the land of the impact zone has been covered now by what amounts to an army of search and rescue teams and 41 dogs. So 85% of the land has been covered. Now we go into the larger buildings, which require peeling back some of the floors and structures. That last 15% could take weeks. We do have extreme concerns that because of the temperature of the fire, the remains of those who have died, in some cases, may be impossible to recover meaningfully. So there are going to be people that are lost forever. And right now we're working obviously with the FBI and everyone on the ground to make sure that we do what we can to assess who's missing.

MARGARET BRENNAN: That is hard to hear, Governor. I know a local Maui official said a large number of the dead may have actually been children who were left home that day because schools were closed, many of them alone or with their grandparents. Is that the case?

GOV. GREEN: That is possible. And that's-that's what we're sharing here internally, that it's possible that there will be many children. This is the largest catastrophe and disaster that's ever hit Maui, probably that's ever hit Hawaii outside of wartime events. So we just thank everyone in the world for reaching out and supporting us through all of the, you know, the ways that they can. Right now we are trying to make sure everyone is sheltered, and we begin to get all the federal resources we can to make life in some way livable for the survivors. That's where we are at the moment.

MARGARET BRENNAN: When will the surviving children of West Maui be able to return to school? What do they need?

GOV. GREEN: In some cases, they're returning later this week. Children can go to any school that's in the region or where they are. We have six hotels that are basically full with families and their children that have survived. We also are doing distance learning. A lot of that was implemented during the COVID pandemic. There are just so many things to share. King Kamehameha Elementary School in Lahaina is burned to the ground. I mean, it's totally gone. It used to host 650 children, some of those children have passed. Others will, of course, go to neighboring schools. You have to remember this is a very rural part of Hawaii. And that's one of the challenges. So schools are far apart. We've authorized other means of transportation, you know, vans and things to help families get farther distances to school.

MARGARET BRENNAN: As-as we've been discussing, there are now a lot of questions about all of the policies and procedures. You know, the National Weather Service had issued a Fire Watch for your state August 6, a few days before the fire hit. With the siren system, you said to CNN on Monday and again on Tuesday that you believe some of the sirens were broken. When did you learn they weren't fully functional?

GOV. GREEN: We assess every siren across the state on the first of the month. And then we ask people to update them and fix them to their abilities. You know, I, of course, I as a person, as a father, as a doctor, I wish all the sirens went off. The challenge that you've heard, and it's not to excuse or explain anything. The challenge has been that historically, those sirens are used for tsunamis. That's when I came to Hawaii 23 years ago was told when I was living down near the shore. So it's usually tsunamis and hurricanes. For perspective, we've had six fire emergencies this August, we had six fire emergencies between 1953 and 2003. That's how- how fast things are changing. I know that there is debate out there whether we should be talking about climate change or not. Well, let's be real world, climate change is here we are in the midst of it with a hotter planet, and fiercer storms. And you asked the question, I'm coming back to it right now. Do I wish those sirens went off? Of course I do. And I think that the answer that the- the emergency administrator for Maui, who has resigned, said was, of course, utterly unsatisfactory to the world. But it is the case that- that we've historically not used those kinds of warnings or fires.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I understand and I know that you are conducting a review, but given that your state is experiencing a drought, and you're in hurricane season, can you say whether other Hawaiian towns are as vulnerable as Lahaina was?

GOV. GREEN: We worry about a lot of our state, Waikoloa on the Big Island, which was experiencing a fire at the same time and required evacuations. We're worried about them. We worry about all of our state. Some of the state, which is denser and more urban, like Waikiki, has a lot more water and a lot more firefighters, a lot more support. Oahu has three quarters of the population of the state. But we've had, although it's not been reported in the press, we've had multiple small fires, some on Oahu, some on Big Island, of course, more on Maui, even in the days since the fire. And the firefighters, I want to thank them. They've been heroic in this period of time. They've just been constantly working and everyone has stepped up. But yes, we're worried, and we have done all that we can at the moment to continue to warn people that this is a season of fire and everyone, of course, doesn't need more reminding because of what happened in Lahaina.

MARGARET BRENNAN: There has been scrutiny of the largest utility, Hawaiian Electric, because there were images, I know you know this, of power lines, possibly starting fires. Last year, that company had proposed an upgrade of the grid with Lahaina as a priority area and suggested a rate hike to do that. Do you know why that didn't happen and if that contributed?

GOV. GREEN: I don't know personally, whether or not the- the power lines were the- the primary reason the fire occurred. That's why I asked for a comprehensive review, I think two days into this, which is very atypical. Normally, these kinds of investigations come months or-or more later. But we have to ask that question, we have to ask the question on every level of how any one city, county, state could have done better and the private sector. This is- this is the world that we live in now. In this case, and I've seen footage of it from some of the survivors, I've seen footage of how it looked during the fire and how things were exploding and what the fierce winds looked like. They were 80 miles per hour gusting and the fire, I'm now told, was as high as 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. It just destroyed everything. It's not to excuse anything else from any company. It's just to explain what the world should prepare for and I humbly asked all of the cities and states to spend that money now to prevent disasters like we are seeing here.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So just to be clear, when you're talking about global warming, are you saying that climate change amplified the cost of human error?

GOV. GREEN: Yes, it did. There's always going to be incredible things that people do to save lives, from the firefighters, from citizens. And there's always going to be decisions that are made that I'm sure aren't perfect in the moment. And- but when you have fire that move more than a mile a minute, and what happened I'm told by some of the survivors, they were at the initial fire. It was put out sometime late in the afternoon in Lahaina, and then the firefighters had to go to three other fires that had started because of the conditions. When they left the fire started up again. And then when the storm winds from Dora, which were that strong, swept it out, it just destroyed everything. So, there's no excuses to ever be made. But there are finite- there are finite resources sometimes in the moment.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Governor, we're watching, the country's watching, good luck and thank you for your time.

GOV. GREEN: Thank you for your love and support. We appreciate it.

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