Death toll from Lahaina wildfire stands at 55; governor says town is ‘gone’
LAHAINA (HawaiiNewsNow) - Maui County confirmed two additional fatalities from the catastrophic Lahaina wildfire on Thursday night, bringing the death toll to 55.
The two deaths are in addition to 17 fatalities the county confirmed earlier in the day.
That number is expected to rise significantly as first responders dig through what’s left of Lahaina in search of survivors.
In a significant development, officials announced families will be able to get back into Lahaina starting at noon Friday, although access to historic Lahaina town will remain restricted.
Under the rules announced by the county:
- To access West Maui, residents will need to show proof of residency; visitors will have to present hotel reservations.
- There will be no access to areas beyond barricades areas.
- A curfew will be in place from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Authorities are also reminding residents that West Maui remains without power and water, and that crews continue a search for victims in historic Lahaina.
Green toured the devastation in the historic town on Thursday. Speaking to reporters, he said Lahaina was “gone” and estimated over 1,000 buildings had been destroyed.
“It’s a heartbreaking day,” Green said, in a news conference. “Without a doubt, what we saw is catastrophic.”
He added, “When you see the full extent of the destruction in Lahaina, it will shock you. It does appear like a bomb and fire went off, if I may. And all of the buildings virtually are gonna have to be rebuilt. It will be a new Lahaina that Maui builds in its own image, with its own values.”
Green also issued a call to action, asking hoteliers and homeowners to consider taking in the thousands of residents who have lost their homes.
“What we’re telling you is we will rebuild,” he said.
As response efforts continued, authorities warned the death toll could grow even higher given what they now know about just how quickly wind-whipped flames spread through Lahaina, giving some only minutes to flee and forcing many to jump into the water.
Eyewitnesses have also reported horrific scenes on the ground in Lahaina.
Tiffany Kidder Winn, owner of Whaler’s Locker, said she saw a line of burned-out vehicles on Front Street, some with charred bodies inside them. “It looks like they were trying to get out, but were stuck in traffic and couldn’t get off Front Street,” she told the Associated Press.
FEMA officials said more cadaver dogs and other resources would be brought in as Maui first responders continued the grim task of searching homes and cars.
Authorities have said three large fires on Maui, including the blaze in Lahaina, are still active. Firefighters, however, appear to be focusing largely on hotspots after airdrops conducted for the first time on Wednesday, when winds began to die down, were finally able to beat down flames.
On Thursday morning, Maui County said the Lahaina wildfire was 80% contained.
But all access to Lahaina town — the hardest hit area — remains blocked off.
On Thursday, Maui police said residents aren’t being allowed back into Lahaina because the area simply isn’t safe — active firefighting and search-and-recovery operations continue.
- Biden approves federal disaster relief for Hawaii as wildfire recovery efforts continue
- Dramatic new ground-level footage shows heartbreaking devastation in Lahaina
- Want to help those devastated by the Maui wildfires? Here’s how
- PHOTOS: A look at the devastation caused by wind-whipped brush fires on Maui
- If you’re trying to track down loved ones on Maui, Red Cross could help
There are also biohazard and other safety concerns, police said.
“We appreciate the cooperation of our community at this challenging time so we can collectively mitigate potential safety risks,” MPD said, in a statement posted on social media.
“Arrangements to allow residents into the area will be announced at a later time.”
In addition to the fatalities, officials say dozens more are injured, some critically.
And thousands of residents are displaced — camping out in six emergency shelters scattered across Maui or staying with family members or in their cars. While many say they’re simply happy to be alive, the scope of the devastation has left them shell-shocked and emotionally-drained.
“Everyone’s homeless today. Everyone’s homeless. Thousands of people are homeless today.,” Lahaina resident Tiare Lawrence said. ““I’m so relieved because I found out recently that my sister was safe, my brother is safe with his children, my stepdad was found. Huge sigh of relief.”
Patrick Grady, who lost his home in Lahaina, called the experience “surreal.”
“It’s just horrible,” he added.
Flames tore through historic Lahaina town on Tuesday night, fueled by winds topping 50 mph generated as Hurricane Dora passed south of the state. Residents reported having just minutes to evacuate and many left without any belongings, just the clothes they were wearing.
Maui Mayor Richard Bissen sought to rally residents at the news conference with Green, while also painting a unequivocal picture of the town people will eventually be allowed to return to.
“It’s all gone,” he said. “None of it’s there.”
Bissen added that those who are in Lahaina don’t have power, water or cell phone service.
Here are more of the latest updates:
- Maui County did not have any additional details about the 36 people killed in the wildfires, but the devastating death toll came as frantic residents took to social media to plead for help in finding their loved ones. Others confirmed they had lost people in the fires.
- Thousands of people were being housed at the county’s emergency shelters and the American Red Cross of Hawaii is putting out an urgent call for volunteers. Two new shelters have opened in Kahului at King’s Cathedral (777 Maui Veteran’s Highway in Kahului) and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (1300 Maui Lani Parkway in Kahului).
- Authorities confirmed at least 20 people suffered serious burns in the wildfires and several were airlifted to Oahu. Three are in critical condition at the Straub Medical Center.
- The state is continuing to oversee the evacuation of thousands of visitors from Maui, many of whom have opted to return home or seek their own accommodations on other islands. The Hawaii Convention Center has been opened to house displaced visitors.
- Tens of thousands of people across Maui are still without power after high winds downed more than 30 poles Tuesday and flames destroyed even more infrastructure. Cell service is also nonexistent in some places and 911 service not available in some places.
Copyright 2023 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.