Wildfires destroy the historic town of Lahaina in Maui
The island of Maui has been rocked by devastating wildfires that have claimed at least 101 lives and destroyed entire towns, including historic Lahaina.
The death toll has risen sharply, marking one of the deadliest disasters in Hawaii's history and the deadliest wildfire in US history in 100 years.
A county spokesperson confirmed that all those who died were in Lahaina, and some fear the number of fatalities could rise even higher.
Firefighters are still battling at least three large fires on Maui, and the full picture of the devastation hasn't yet come into view.
Lahaina appears to be the hardest-hit area, and access to the site was blocked off.
Authorities announced that Civil Air Patrol and state flyovers found at least 2,200 structures in the community were damaged or destroyed by the flames.
As Maui County grapples with the scale of the disaster, its emergency response is strained, and both Hawaii National Guard and federal resources are offering aid.
On Wednesday, President Joe Biden offered his condolences to the families of those who lost loved ones and offered federal support.
Acting Governor Sylvia Luke reflected on the state's unity, stating, "This is the entire state coming together to assist our family on Maui."
The tragic wildfires were compounded by intense winds fueled by Hurricane Dora, with gusts up to 70 to 80 mph.
The unexpected wind-driven wildfires have led to extensive damage to the infrastructure, leaving tens of thousands without power and many without cell service.
Many locals have lost their homes, animals, and businesses.
The legendary banyan tree of Lahaina, a historical symbol planted in 1873 in front of the courthouse to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first Protestant mission, has been scorched by the relentless fire.
Though the 60-foot tall tree, originally imported from India, continues to stand in the wake of the blaze, uncertainty looms regarding its ability to survive the extensive fire damage.
Governor Josh Green warned that the damage estimate from the blaze will likely approach six billion dollars.
He cut short his personal travel and returned to Hawaii to coordinate the response.
The scale of the destruction has overwhelmed local resources, leading to a nationwide effort to assist the affected areas.
The wildfires have impacted more than the residents of Maui.
More than 11,000 travelers have been evacuated from Maui, and at least 4,000 tourists are being relocated from Maui to Oahu, where they will be housed at the Hawaii Convention Center or seek other accommodations.
Dead Bodies Floating
The situation on the ground is heart-wrenching, with hundreds flocking to emergency shelters and many more sleeping in their cars.
Some businesses, like Walmart, have opened their facilities to evacuees.
The American Red Cross of Hawaii has issued an urgent call for volunteers, and more than 2,100 people are housed at the county's four emergency shelters.
In addition to the fatalities, officials say dozens more are injured, with at least 20 people suffering serious burns.
Several were airlifted to Oahu, and three are in critical condition at the Straub Medical Center.
A resident who stayed to help despite losing his home described the dire circumstances in Lahaina.
"We will do our best to get past this, and it will be tough. It's going to take years to fix. This is not even the worst of it," he said.
Adding the horrifying detail, "We've still got dead bodies floating on the seawall. They've been sitting there since last night. We've been pulling people out since last night, trying to save people's lives."
Eyewitnesses in Lahaina town described an apocalyptic scene where residents were forced to jump into the harbor waters to avoid fast-moving flames.
Richard Olsten, a helicopter pilot who flew over the town, said, "It's like an area was bombed. It's like a war zone."
Dry Vegetation, Strong Winds, and Low Humidity
The brush fire in Lahaina is one of at least seven sizable wildfires firefighters battling statewide on Tuesday amid treacherous conditions.
Meanwhile, the Coast Guard has asked boaters to be on the lookout for anyone else in the waters off Lahaina, where people jumped to escape the flames.
The consequences of these wildfires are far-reaching and will likely have long-lasting impacts on the local economy, community, and environment.
The devastation in Lahaina, in particular, has drawn national attention, and authorities are urging those with Maui travel plans to postpone or cancel altogether.
The National Weather Service attributes the fires to a combination of dry vegetation, strong winds, and low humidity.
The winds from Hurricane Dora, located about 860 miles southwest of Honolulu, exacerbated the situation.
The wildfires in Hawaii echo similar scenes of devastation in other parts of the world, including Europe and western Canada, due to record-setting heat waves.
The frequency and intensity of such extreme weather events are increasing due to human-caused climate change, scientists warn.
As the firefighting and recovery efforts continue, Hawaii, as a state and a community, comes together to rebuild and support those affected by this unprecedented disaster.
Last Update: August 16, 2023 | 08:51 (UTC)