At least 105 people lost their lives to wildfires that engulfed Maui over the past couple of days. Fueled by the strong winds of distant Hurricane Dora, the fires have razed hundreds of structures in the historic town of Lahaina and triggered mass evacuation of people north of the town.
Note: The latest updated information about this event is at the end of the article
While Hawaii’s Big Island also felt the brunt of the wildfires, Maui suffered the greatest devastation since the fires started in early August.
The majority of the blazes remained uncontained on August 10, according to Mayor Richard Bissen Jr., as emergency services grapple with widespread power and cell service outages that hinder rescue and evacuation efforts. Over 11 000 Maui residents currently face power disruptions, with restoration timelines uncertain.
The historic town of Lahaina, dating back to the 1700s and popular among tourists, has been significantly impacted, with over 270 homes and other structures, including historical sites, that have been either damaged or completely destroyed. With much of the town decimated, hundreds of its residents are now displaced.
The wildfires took residents by surprise, with its rapid spread since igniting on Tuesday, August 8. In the face of the escalating threat, more than 50 Lahaina residents were forced to seek refuge from the flames in the ocean.
A mass evacuation of people north of Lahaina is still in progress on Thursday, August 10. Tourists are being transported to the Kahului Airport and residents to a shelter in central Maui.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has established three temporary flight restrictions in the affected regions. The largest of these aims to ensure safe rescue operations offshore of Lahaina. The two others — over Kihei and Kula — are designed to protect firefighting efforts.
This is the deadliest fire in the United States since California’s 2018 Camp Fire.
According to media reports at least 53 people died, 1 000 others are still missing and more than 1 000 structures have been destroyed by the fires across the Island. In addition, tens of thousands of tourists have been evacuated, and 11 000 people are without power on the western half of the island.
None of the fires on Maui are 100% contained today, and conditions remain dangerous and unpredictable.
The number of fatalities rose to 80 late Friday (LT), August 11.
According to an analysis by The New York Times using satellite images, about 1 900 structures appear visibly damaged or destroyed by wildfires in Lahaina.
This is now the deadliest natural disaster in Hawaii since it joined the United States in 1959. The previous was a tsunami that killed 61 people and damaged or destroyed more than 500 homes and businesses on May 22, 1960.
The tsunami was produced by the M9.5 earthquake in southwest Chile — the largest ever recorded. The wave that hit Hilo Bay was as high as 10 m (35 feet). Little to no damage was reported elsewhere in the islands.
The death toll rose to 93 but the governor warned it’s still expected to rise. Officials have hesitated to offer an estimate of the total number of fatalities, noting that many people who remain unaccounted for may not be reachable due to unreliable cell service.
The Lahaina Fire is now the deadliest in the US in more than a century. Approximately 2 700 structures have been destroyed, with most of them homes.
“On the ground, recovery teams armed with cadaver dogs are going from house to house and business to business in search of remains. Remains have also been found in cars and on the road,” the Hawaii News Now reported.
U.S. Fire Administrator Lori Moore-Merrell said after visiting Lahaina that the fire tore through the town incredibly fast, outpacing anything that firefighters could have done.
Authorities have confirmed sirens were not sounded in Lahaina and acknowledged evacuation alerts didn’t reach many because cell phone towers and power had already been lost.
An estimated 4 500 people have been displaced.
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), as of August 15, at least 105 fatalities and 20 injured people have been reported, and hundreds of people are still missing. Over 8 000 people have been evacuated, including 7 500 in Lahaina City, and 570 people are still in evacuation centers.
A total of 115 fatalities have been confirmed, with all single-story homes in the disaster zone now checked.
Additionally, 388 individuals remain unaccounted for.
Currently, 341 emergency staff, assisted by 50 canine teams, are scouring multi-story residential and commercial buildings. To facilitate safe inspections by first responders, heavy machinery is being utilized to clear obstacles, such as vehicles and building debris. At present, there are no debris clearance operations happening in Lahaina.
1 Deadly wildfires burning across Maui prompt evacuations – CNN – August 10, 2023
2 At least 36 killed on Maui as fires burn through Hawaii and thousands race to escape
Featured image credit: aviationbrk (stillshot)
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