As of late Thursday, the tragic loss of life resulting from the devastating wildfires on Maui island in Hawaii has climbed to 55, according to official reports. Firefighting teams are still actively engaged in combating the blaze.
Anticipatedly, the casualty count is likely to rise further as search and rescue operations persist throughout the island. The consequences of this catastrophe have been far-reaching, marked by extensive hardships and devastation. Numerous individuals have been uprooted from their homes, and numerous structures have been razed to the ground.
Regrettably, this incident ranks among the most lethal disasters in the history of the United States’ state of Hawaii.
The fire started Tuesday and was exacerbated by a dry brush and heavy wind. The exact cause has yet to be pinpointed.
The blaze moved quickly and rapidly engulfed Lahaina, a historic seaside town that was once the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom.
Lahaina has about 12,000 residents and is a top destination for tourists.
Hawaii Governor Josh Green said, “It’s going to take many years to rebuild Lahaina.” Green said 80% of the town was gone.
“It will be a new Lahaina that Maui builds in its own image with its own values,” Green said of the city that draws 2 million tourists each year, or about 80% of the island’s visitors.
‘We barely made it out’
Many people on the island were caught off-guard by the fires and made desperate attempts to flee.
Lahaina residents Kamuela Kawaakoa and Iiulia Yasso told the AP news agency that they only had time to grab a change of clothes and run with their 6-year-old son as the bushes around them caught fire.
“We barely made it out,” Kawaakoa, 34, said at an evacuation shelter, still unsure if anything was left of their apartment.
Brandon Wilson, a Canadian, told the AFP news agency that it “really looks like somebody came along and just bombed the whole town. It’s completely devastated.”
Steven Businger, a professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Hawaii, told DW high winds from a storm to the north of the Hawaiian islands exacerbated the fires and caught people unprepared at night.
“This very strong wind surge that came across the West Maui mountains,” he said. “The West Maui mountains, in turn, accelerated those winds further, and especially at night. That’s what caught people off guard, that this firestorm occurred when people were, you know, sleeping or taken unawares.”
US President Joe Biden on Thursday declared the wildfire as a “major disaster,” pledging federal funds for Maui.
Power outages and disruptions to telephone services in parts of the island have aggravated the emergency situation.
Evacuation and relief efforts are ongoing.
Authorities said thousands of tourists and locals have already been evacuated.