'Heartbreaking day': At least 55 dead after wildfires hit Hawaii as governor warns death toll will continue to rise

11 August 2023, 05:30 | Updated: 11 August 2023, 11:56

Maui, in Hawaii, is ablaze after a hurricane fanned the flames
Maui, in Hawaii, is ablaze after a hurricane fanned the flames. Picture: Alamy/Getty
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

At least 55 people have died after fires broke out in Hawaii and devastated a popular tourist destination, with the state's governor warning the death toll will continue to rise.

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At least 14,000 people have fled the island of Maui since Tuesday, with another 14,500 expected to be gone by the end of today. Some 11,000 people are still without power on the island.

Around 80 per cent of Lahaina, a popular tourist town on the island's west coast, is "gone", according to the state's governor Josh Green.

None of the three main fires have been put out yet, although the Laihana fire is 80 per cent contained.

Thousands of buildings, some dating to the 1700s, have been destroyed as a hurricane helped fan the flames.

Around 1,000 people are missing as rescuers race to find survivors and helicopters dump water over the fires in a bid to bring them under control.

Mr Green described it as a "heartbreaking day" as he warned the death roll will likely exceed the 61 lives lost after a tsunami in 1960.

"What we've seen today has been catastrophic, but we tell you there's going to be a team effort to bring our state back," Mr Green told reporters.

Read More: Hawaiian paradise wiped out: At least 36 dead and thousands homeless after wildfires tear through island of Maui

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"I know the question on your mind is: when can I get back to my home?" Maui Mayor Richard Bissen said - telling people to wait until "we have recovered those that have perished".

"Please allow us to complete this process before we allow people back into their homes," Mr Bissen added.

Maui has been engulfed by wildfires
Maui has been engulfed by wildfires. Picture: Alamy
The wildfires broke out in Maui
The wildfires broke out in Maui. Picture: Google Maps

Kamuela Kawaakoa, who evacuated to a shelter on Tuesday with his partner and son, six, said: "We barely made it out in time. It was so hard to sit there and just watch my town burn to ashes and not be able to do anything.

"I was helpless."

President Joe Biden has issued a "major disaster declaration", releasing funds for recovery.

Mr Biden tweeted: "Our prayers are with those whose homes, businesses, and communities are destroyed.

Waiola Church and nearby Lahaina Hongwanji Mission ignite in Lahaina
Waiola Church and nearby Lahaina Hongwanji Mission ignite in Lahaina. Picture: Alamy

"I have ordered all available federal assets on the Islands to help with response.

"And I urge all residents to continue to follow evacuation orders, listen to the instructions of first responders and officials, and stay alert."

Buildings in tourist hotspot Lahaina, on the coast, were razed to the ground as smoking rubble piled up at the water. It is thought almost 300 buildings have been damaged or destroyed.

A tour helicopter pilot, Richard Olsten, said: "It's horrifying. I've flown here 52 years and I've never seen anything come close to this."

Hawaii has set ablaze
Hawaii has set ablaze. Picture: Alamy

He told Sky News: "Basically, the whole Front Street of Lahaina, all the shops, the historical buildings, everything, has been burnt right to the ground.

"There are hundreds of people homeless, there's still no power in the whole town, people can't get access to food, so it was just an absolutely heart-wrenching site.

"And the really sad part about it too is the loss of the historical buildings on Front Street that can't be rebuilt - so that whole area is levelled to the ground."

Some in Lahaina even fled to the ocean, with the Coast Guard pulling 12 people from the sea.

The area is a popular tourist destination and an important historical site, having once served as the Hawaii's capital.

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