In the midst of the death toll rising to at least 53 and survivors recounting terrifying tales of narrow escapes with nothing more than the clothes on their backs, a search of the wildfire devastation on the Hawaiian island of Maui on Thursday revealed a wasteland of destroyed neighborhoods and landmarks that were charred beyond recognition.
The island’s way of life had been reduced to gray ash, and a flyover over old Lahaina revealed entire neighborhoods that had once been a dazzling vision of color.
Rubble and burned foundations covered block after block, even along Front Street, where tourists had been dining and shopping only a few days earlier.
The town, which goes back to the 1700s and is the largest community on the island’s west side, had smoke hanging over it and burnt boats in the harbor.
The Associated Press was informed by Hawaii governor Josh Green that “Lahaina has been burned down, with a few rare exceptions.” He claimed that still-burning fires had damaged more than 1,000 structures.
One of the town’s oldest stores, Tiffany Kidder Winn’s gift shop Whaler’s Locker, was among the many establishments that were destroyed. On Thursday, as she was evaluating the damage, she came across a row of burned-out cars, some of which had incinerated occupants.
They appeared to be trying to leave, but were unable to leave Front Street due to traffic, she observed. Later, she noticed a body propped up against a seawall.
Because of how widespread the damage was, Winn claimed, “I couldn’t even tell where I was because all the landmarks were gone.”
The fire started on Tuesday and caught Maui off guard, fueled by a dry summer and high winds from a passing hurricane. It raced over the island’s parched vegetation before feeding on houses and anything else that stood in its way.
Since the 2018 Camp Fire in California, which claimed the lives of at least 85 people and destroyed the town of Paradise, this U.S. wildfire, with an official death toll of 53 as of Thursday, has been the worst. However, as rescuers enter areas of the island that had been inaccessible because of the three active fires, including the one near Lahaina that was 80% contained on Thursday, according to a Maui County news release, the death toll in Hawaii might increase.
“We are still trying to preserve life. According to Adam Weintraub, a spokeswoman for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, search and rescue is still a top priority.
According to Weintraub, unless the fire lines are shut down and access is secure, search and rescue teams won’t be able to reach some regions.
Some folks had only a few minutes to act before the flames forced them to run into the water. Bosco Bae, a resident of Lahaina, posted a video on Facebook from Tuesday night that showed almost every building on a street engulfed in flames as sirens wailed and flying sparks raced by. Bae was evacuated to the island’s main airport where he claimed to be one of the last residents to escape the town.
Marlon Vasquez, a Guatemalan cook who arrived in the US in January 2022 at the age of 31, claimed that by the time he heard the fire alarms, it was already too late for him to escape in his automobile.
He spoke from an evacuation center at a gym, saying, “I opened the door, and the fire was almost on top of us.” “We kept running. We practically never stopped moving because of the fire, which persisted into the following day.
Vasquez and his brother Eduardo managed to flee on foot via the jam-packed streets. He vomited because the smoke was so poisonous. His housemates and neighbors might not have made it to safety, he claimed.
Kamuela Kawaakoa and Iiulia Yasso, two inhabitants of Lahaina, recalled their terrifying escape from the smoke-filled skies. After a quick trip to the grocery store for water, the couple and their 6-year-old son returned to their flat, but they barely had time to change before the bushes surrounding them started to burn.
Kawaakoa, 34, said in an evacuation shelter, “We barely made it out,” without knowing if their flat had any remaining possessions.
When the Hale Mahaolu senior care facility across the street caught fire, the family ran and dialed 911. The family doesn’t know if Louise Abihai, Chelsey Vierra’s grandma, left Hale Mahaolu where she was residing. She is without a phone. Her age is 97, Vierra stated on Thursday. She is mobile. She is powerful.
Relatives are calling the hospital and keeping an eye on shelter waiting lists. Vierra, who had left the flames, stated, “We got to find our loved one, but there’s no communication here.” “We have no idea who to ask about her whereabouts.”
On the island, communications have been sporadic, with 911, landline, and cellular connectivity occasionally failing. Maui’s power was also out in several areas.
According to Ed Sniffen, state transportation director, tourists were told to avoid the area, and roughly 11,000 left Maui by plane on Wednesday, with another at least 1,500 anticipated to depart on Thursday. The Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu was ready for thousands of visitors.
Joe Biden, the president, declared a significant catastrophe on Maui. He promised that the federal reaction will make sure that “anyone who’s lost a loved one, or whose home has been damaged or destroyed is going to get help immediately” when traveling in Utah on Thursday. While claiming that the Federal Emergency Management Agency was “surging emergency personnel” on the island, Biden pledged to simplify requests for assistance.