‘Like an apocalypse’: Hawaii wildfire death toll soars to 36

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By Webdesk

Several thousand residents have rushed to escape homes as fire swept across the Maui island resort town.

At least 36 people have been killed and several thousand residents fled their homes as wind-fuelled wildfires devastated much of the resort city of Lahaina on Hawaii’s Maui island, with residents from the US island state describing it as an “apocalypse”.

“As the firefighting efforts continue, 36 total fatalities have been discovered today amid the active Lahaina fire,” the Maui county government said in a statement on Thursday.

The fires began burning early on Tuesday, putting homes, businesses and utilities at risk, as well as more than 35,000 people on the island of Maui, the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency said in a statement on Wednesday.

The fires, fanned by strong winds from Hurricane Dora, sent desperate residents jumping into the ocean to escape the fast-moving flames.

A video posted on social media showed blazes tearing through the heart of the beachfront town and sending up huge plumes of black smoke.

“We just had the worst disaster I’ve ever seen. All of Lahaina is burnt to a crisp. It’s like an apocalypse,” said Lahaina resident Mason Jarvi, who escaped the city.

A charred boat lies in the scorched waterfront after wildfires fanned by the winds of a distant hurricane devastated Maui's city of Lahaina, Hawaii
A charred boat lies in the scorched waterfront after wildfires devastated Maui’s city of Lahaina, Hawaii [Mason Jarvi/Handout via Reuters]

More than 270 buildings have been damaged or destroyed in Lahaina.

“Much of Lahaina on Maui has been destroyed and hundreds of local families have been displaced,” said Josh Green, governor of the 12,000-resident historic town popular with tourists.

Adam Weintraub, of the Hawai Emergency Management Agency, told Al Jazeera the devastated areas resembled a “war zone.”

“Some of the aerial footage that we’ve seen from the area reminds me of the pictures from Dresden from World War II,” Weintraub said, referring to the German city almost completely destroyed by Allied bombardment.

He said additional aid had reached the affected areas on Thursday. However, the fires affected access and communications in several areas, complicating rescue services and the delivery of aid.

At least 2,100 people were sheltered by the American Red Cross on Maui island on Wednesday and evacuation efforts were under way. “We are working with the county, with the American Red Cross and with our colleagues in Honolulu county to help remove visitors and displaced residents in Maui island and find other accommodation or travel arrangements,” Weintraub added.

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