At Least 36 Killed on Maui as Fires Burn Through Hawaii and Thousands Race to Escape

At least 36 people have been killed in “unprecedented” wildfires that are raging across Maui, officials said Wednesday.

via: AP

In the deadliest blaze in the U.S. in years.

Rescuers searched Thursday through the leveled, ashen homes and businesses of Lahaina, which dates to the 1700s, is the biggest town on the west side of the island and has long been a favorite destination of tourists. Firefighters still battled blazes on the island, as local officials prepared to evacuate thousands of visitors and find shelter for residents in need.

The fire started Tuesday and took the island by surprise, racing through dry growth and leaving behind burned-out cars on once busy streets and smoking piles of rubble where historic buildings had stood. The flames left some people with mere minutes to act and led some to flee into the ocean.

At least 36 people have died, Maui County said in a news release late Wednesday, adding that no other details were available. Officials said earlier that 271 structures had been damaged or destroyed and dozens of people had been injured. It is the deadliest fire since the 2018 Camp Fire in California, which killed at least 85 people and virtually razed the town of Paradise.

Officials warned that the Maui death toll could rise.

“These were large and fast-moving fires, and it’s only recently that we’ve started to get our arms around them and contain them. So, we’re hoping for the best, but we’re prepared for the worst.” Adam Weintraub, a spokesman for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, said Thursday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Lahaina residents Kamuela Kawaakoa and Iiulia Yasso described a harrowing escape under smoke-filled skies Tuesday afternoon. The couple and their 6-year-old son got back to their apartment after a quick dash to the supermarket for water, and only had time to grab a change of clothes and run as the bushes around them caught fire.

“We barely made it out,” Kawaakoa said at an evacuation shelter on Wednesday, still unsure if anything was left of their apartment.

As the family fled, a senior center across the road erupted in flames. They called 911, but didn’t know if the people got out. As they drove away, downed utility poles and others fleeing in cars slowed their progress. “It was so hard to sit there and just watch my town burn to ashes and not be able to do anything,” Kawaakoa, 34, said.

As the fires rage, tourists were advised to stay away, and about 11,000 visitors flew out of Maui on Wednesday, with at least another 1,500 expected to leave Thursday, according to Ed Sniffen, state transportation director. Officials prepared the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu to take in the thousands who have been displaced.

Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen Jr. said the island had “been tested like never before in our lifetime.”

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