Maui Island burnt in US deadliest wildfire in over 100 years, more deaths predicted

Xinhua | Updated: 2023-08-13 18:17
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This handout photo courtesy of Carter Barto via Facebook shows an aerial view of smoke rising above as a wildfire burns in Lahaina, Hawaii, on August 9, 2023. [AFP PHOTO / CARTER BARTO]

LOS ANGELES -- Smoke still billowed upward in many parts of Maui, the second largest in the chain of islands which make up the state of Hawaii, and Friday's night sky glowed in places where flames leap up from the landscape like the tongues of fire over a funeral pyre.

Five days after the devastating hurricane-driven wildfires dubbed Lahaina, Pulehu and Upcountry Maui Fires, 93 people have been confirmed dead as of Saturday, according to the Maui County.


The death toll meant the disaster officially became deadlier than California's Camp Fire in 2018, which killed 85 and became the deadliest fire in American history over the last 100 years.

It also surpassed the state's deadliest previous largest natural disaster, a 1960 tsunami that killed 61 people. An even deadlier tsunami in 1946, prior to Hawaii's statehood, killed more than 150 on the Big Island.

Maui fire crews battled blazes still scorching parts of the island Saturday, while rescue workers searched for about 1,000 people reported missing.

Moreover, Hawaii Governor Josh Green said on Saturday that the death number would continue to rise.

Maui Police Chief John Pelletier said that canines had searched only 3 percent of impacted areas.

Local reports said that rescuers spray-paints "X" marks on cars and buildings on Front Street to indicate they had been initially checked, but that there could still be human remains inside.

Thousands of people have been displaced, and more than 2,200 structures have been destroyed, showed the damage assessment released by the Pacific Disaster Center (PDC) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) early Saturday. The historic town of Lahaina, which was the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii from 1820 to 1845, was totally burned down to the ground.

Lahaina is also one of the best attractions in Maui. The town with over 12 thousand residents was visited by two million travellers annually, accounting for approximately 80 percent of Maui tourism.

"Without a doubt, it feels like a bomb was dropped on Lahaina," Green said on Friday after walking the ruins of the town with the mayor.

In a video posted online, Milo Tomkinson, 13, and his big brother, Noah Tomkinson, 19, recalled their terrible experience when they tried to escape the town with their mom as flames spread from one block to another in incredible speed.

They were at their Lahaina home when they noticed the flames getting closer, so they tried to flee in their car, but the only road was jammed by panic people.

They immediately decided to leave their car behind and tried looking for shelter on foot, but flames were everywhere. At last they found the only route to survive: the Pacific.

"This is like last resort time, because the fire was like across the street at this point," Noah said. "So we were like, yeah, we've got to jump in the ocean ... and then, once we got in the water, just all the wind and just all the fire, and the smog just are coming straight toward us."

They waded in chest to shoulder deep water for five hours before the flames began to die down and the sky turned dark.

People still don't know what set off the initial spark so far, but Maui's conditions on Aug. 8, dry and windy, are definitely ideal for the spread of a blaze. High winds from far-off Hurricane Dora with speed as fast as 80 mph, fanned the flames across the island crowded with tourists. Meanwhile, on the map of US Drought Monitor on Aug 8, the whole of Hawaii was marked as abnormally dry or totally in drought.

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