Governor says 53 people have died in Maui wildfires, historic city of Lahaina burned


LAHAINA, Hawaii (AP) — A search of the devastation from wildfires on the Hawaiian island of Maui Thursday revealed a wasteland of decimated neighborhoods and landmarks charred beyond recognition, as the death toll rose to at least 53 and survivors told harrowing tales of narrow escapes. Only with clothes on their backs.

bridge from Historic Lahaina He showed entire neighborhoods that were a vibrant vision of color and island life reduced to ashes. Not yet a block is nothing but rubble and blackened foundations, including along the famous Front Street, where tourists shopped and dined just days before. Boats were burned in the harbor, and smoke billowed over the town, which dates back to the 18th century and is the largest community on the west side of the island.

“Lahaina, with a few rare exceptions, has burned,” Hawaii Governor Josh Green told the Associated Press. He said more than 1,000 buildings had been destroyed by the fires, which were still burning.

The state’s deadliest natural disaster since the 1960 tsunami claimed 61 lives on the Big Island, Green added, and the death toll is likely to rise as search and rescue operations continue.

“We’re heartbroken,” Green said.

Several businesses were destroyed, including one of the oldest stores in the city. When owner Tiffany Kidder Winn assessed the damage Thursday at Whaler’s Locker gift shop, she found a row of burned vehicles, some with charred bodies inside.

“It looked like they were trying to get out, but they were stuck in traffic and couldn’t get out of Front Street,” she said. Later, she spots a corpse leaning against a sea wall.

The devastation was so widespread, Wayne said, “I couldn’t even tell where I was, because all the landmarks were gone.”

It is fed by dry summers and strong winds from A hurricane passes, The fire started on Tuesday and has taken Maui by surprise, racing through the dry undergrowth that covers the island and then eating away at homes and anything else that lies in its path.

The official death toll of 53 as of Thursday makes this wildfire the deadliest in the United States since 2018 Campfire in California, which killed at least 85 people and devastated the city of Paradise. However, the death toll for Hawaii could rise as rescuers reach parts of the island that were otherwise inaccessible due to the three ongoing fires, including the one in Lahaina that was 80% contained Thursday, according to a Maui County press release. Dozens of wounded were injured, some of them in serious condition.

“We are still in life-preserving mode. Search and rescue remains a primary concern,” said Adam Weintraub, a spokesman for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.

Weintraub added that search and rescue teams are still unable to access certain areas until the lines of fire are secure and it is safe to access them.

The fire left some people with only minutes to work and sent some fleeing into the ocean. A man from Lahaina, Bosco Bay, Post a video to Facebook From a Tuesday night that showed nearly every building on the street on fire as sirens blared and sparks of wind raced. Pai, who said he was one of the last to leave town, was evacuated to the island’s main airport and was waiting to be allowed home.

Marlon Vasquez, a 31-year-old cook from Guatemala who came to the United States in January 2022, said that when he heard the fire alarms, it was already too late to flee in his car.

“I opened the door, and the fire was almost over our heads,” he said from the gymnasium evacuation center. “We ran and ran. We ran almost all night and into the next day, because the fire wouldn’t stop.”

Vazquez and his brother Eduardo fled through roads lined with cars full of people. The smoke was so toxic that he vomited. He said he was not sure his roommates and neighbors would make it to safety.

Lahaina residents Kamuela Kawakwa and Iulia Yasu described their harrowing escape under smoky skies. The couple and their 6-year-old son are back in their apartment after a quick dash to the supermarket for water, with only time to change clothes and run as the bushes around them catch fire.

“We barely made it out,” said Kwakuwa, 34, in an evacuation shelter, still not sure if anything remained in their apartment.

When the family ran away, they called 911 when they saw the Hale Mahaolu seniors’ home across the road on fire.

Chelsea Vieira’s grandmother, Louise Abihai, used to live in Hill Mahawulu, and the family didn’t know if she would ever move out. “She doesn’t have a phone. She’s 97,” Vieira said Thursday. “She can walk. It’s strong.”

Relatives monitor lists of shelters and contact the hospital. “We found someone we love, but there are no communications here,” said Vieira, who fled the flames. “We don’t know who to ask where you went.”

Communications were spotty on the island, with 911 service and land and cellular lines down at times. Power was also lost in parts of Maui.

Tourists advised to stay away, and about 11,000 traveled from Maui on Wednesday and at least 1,500 more are expected to depart Thursday, according to Ed Snevin, the state transportation director. Officials prepared the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu to welcome thousands.

In coastal Kihei, southeast of Lahaina, large swaths of land glowed red with embers Wednesday night as flames continued to burn trees and buildings. A gust of wind blew across a patch of charred earth, black and orange and still rising from the hot spots.

The fires were Driven by strong winds Cyclone Dora passes far to the south. It is the latest in a series of disasters Because of the extreme weather around the world this summer. Experts say Climate change increases the likelihood of such events occurring.

Wildfires are not unusual in Hawaii, said Thomas Smith, assistant professor of environmental geography at the London School of Economics, but the weather in the past few weeks has created fuel for a devastating fire, and once it ignites, high winds spell disaster. and political science.

The Big Island in Hawaii is currently experiencing fires, Mayor Mitch Roth said, though there have been no reports of injuries or homes destroyed there.

With communications hampered, it was difficult for many to check in with friends and family members. Some people were posting messages on social media. Family Help Center opened at Kahului Community Center for Tracing Persons.

Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, of the Hawaii State Department of Defense, said Wednesday night that officials are working to restore communications, water distribution and possibly add law enforcement personnel. He said National Guard helicopters dropped 150,000 gallons (568,000 liters) of water on the fires.

The Coast Guard said it rescued 14 people who jumped into the water to escape the flames and smoke.

Maui County Sheriff Richard Bissen Jr. said Wednesday that officials have yet to begin investigating the direct cause of the fires.

President Joe Biden declared a major disaster on the island of Maui. Traveling to Utah on Thursday, he vowed that the federal response would ensure that “anyone who has lost a loved one, or whose home has been damaged or destroyed, will get help right away.” Biden promised to streamline requests for assistance and said the Federal Emergency Management Agency was working to “surge the number of emergency personnel” on the island.


This story has been corrected to state that Louise Abehay is Chelsea Vieira’s grandmother, not her great-grandmother.


The Associated Press’s climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. Learn more about the AP’s climate initiative here. AP is solely responsible for all content.


Cinco Kelleher reported from Honolulu, Rush from Kahului, and Weber from Los Angeles. and Associated Press writers Nick Berry in Wellington, New Zealand; Andrew Selsky in Bend, Oregon; Bobby Kaina Calvan and Beatrice Dupuis in New York; and Chris Mejrian in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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