At least 53 killed in wildfire, Hawaii governor says: "it feels like a bomb was dropped on Lahaina"

10:23 AM Aug 11, 2023 | PTI |

Lahaina: The death toll from devastating wildfires in Maui climbed to 53 Thursday, Hawaii Gov Josh Green said.


“We’re talking about the largest natural disaster of this generation in Hawaii,” Green told The Associated Press.. “We are heart-sick that there are more than the original 36 who have passed.”

He expects the number to increase as crews continue to search for survivors. Green said it looks like there have been more than 1,000 structures destroyed. “Lahaina, with a few rare exceptions, has been burned down,” Green said after walking the town Thursday morning with Maui Mayor Richard Bissen. “Without a doubt, it feels like a bomb was dropped on Lahaina.”

Philanthropy experts recommend that people seeking to donate to Maui’s wildfire victims wait to do so. Regine Webster, vice president of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, says the full scope of need may not be known for up to a week as firefighters finish up their response.

She also urged potential donors to support organisations with deep local ties and community knowledge. People can also donate through the crowdfunding site GoFundMe, which vets fundraisers for those who have lost property or were injured.


The organisation will conduct additional verification before releasing the funds. They also deduct a transaction fee. Images and stories coming out of the historic town of Lahaina paint an increasingly grim scene as Hawaii’s emergency responders work to rescue victims and control wildfires that have ravaged parts of Maui this week.

A flyover of the area Thursday showed normally vibrant communities had been reduced to gray and black. Street after street was nothing but rubble and foundation, said Associated Press video journalist Ty O’Neil, who was on the flight.

The road was littered with charred vehicles, and an elementary school was left a mess of collapsed steel. Though pockets of wispy smoke remained, there were no active flames visible. Tiffany Kidder Winn arrived in Lahaina on Wednesday to survey the damage. Her gift store, Whalers Locker, was destroyed along with many others on Front Street. The scene became gruesome, she said, when she came across a line of burnt-out vehicles, some with charred bodies inside. “It looked like they were trying to get out but were stuck in traffic,” she said.

She later spotted a body leaning against a seawall. He had managed to climb over but died before he could reach the ocean while escaping flames, she surmised. Now and then, she would pause to allow her emotions and sense of horror to spill out.

”The fire came through so quickly that there was no notice,” she said. “I think a lot of people just had no time to get out.” President Joe Biden spoke with Gov Green by phone and offered his condolences for lives lost and land destroyed by the wildfires, the White House said.

He pledged federal disaster aid to ensure that “anyone who’s lost a loved one, or who’s home has been damaged or destroyed, is going to get help immediately.” Biden promised to streamline requests for federal assistance and said that the Federal Emergency Management Agency was “surging emergency personnel” on Maui. He also ordered all available Coast Guard and Air Force personnel on the island to work with the Hawaii National Guard. “Our prayers are with the people of Hawaii. But not just our prayers. Every asset we have will be available to them,” he said.

Earlier Thursday, the White House announced the president had approved a disaster declaration for the state, clearing the way for federal aid. The funding will include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover damaged uninsured property and other programs for Maui residents and businesses suffering losses.

Officials are still trying to get a handle on the fires’ progress but know they’re not fully contained, Hawaii Emergency Management spokesman Adam Weintraub said. “We are still in life preservation mode. Search and rescue is still a primary concern,” he said. “Our search and rescue teams from Maui and supporting agencies are not able to do their job until the fire lines are secure.”

Gov. Green, US Sen Brian Schatz and Federal Emergency Management Agency staffers headed to Maui on Thursday morning to assess the damage from devastating wildfires, Schatz wrote on social media.

Emergency rescue, recovery and firefighting operations were still underway, so the group would be careful not to interfere with those efforts, Schatz wrote on the X platform, previously known as Twitter.

“Winds are finally backing off. The number of dead continues to rise,” Schatz wrote.

Officials on Thursday confirmed 53 deaths from the wildfires that swept across parts of Maui this week, driven by fierce winds from a hurricane passing far south of the island chain. Dozens more people were injured. The damage assessment will help Hawaii’s leaders get a better idea of what federal aid is needed.

In a Facebook post, the governor asked that Hawaii’s residents provide all the emotional and financial support they can to residents of Lahaina and Maui, calling the wildfires “the deadliest natural disaster the state has seen in generations.” A mass evacuation effort resumed Thursday morning for visitors and residents stranded just north of a historic town in Maui that was destroyed, officials said.



Udayavani is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel and stay updated with the latest news.