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Hawaii 911 services down and hospitals overwhelmed with burn patients as wildfires rage

‘Unprecedented’ disaster unfolding as acting governor pleads for federal assistance

Bevan Hurley
Wednesday 09 August 2023 16:39 BST
Roadside devastated by Hurricane Dora and wildfire in Hawaii

Hospitals on the Hawaiian island of Maui are overwhelmed with burn victims from raging wildfires that have downed the island’s 911 and cellphone services, acting governor Sylvia Luke says.

Ms Luke told CNN that the state was facing an “unprecedented” natural disaster and called on the White House to declare a federal emergency to provide immediate support.

While the exact number of injuries is unclear, the acting governor said the Maui Memorial Medical Center had been overrun and lacked a specialist burn unit to treat survivors.

“We are already in communication with other hospital systems about relieving the burden — the reality is that we need to fly people out of Maui to give them burn support because Maui Hospital cannot do extensive burn treatment,” Ms Luke told CNN.

The wildfires fuelled by strong winds from Hurricane Dora had also knocked out 911 and cell phone services, cutting off communication with the worst affected areas, Ms Luke said.

Officials in Maui County had been unable to reach the western town of Lahaina, where a dozen residents were rescued by the US Coast Guard at around 10.50pm Tuesday local time after jumping into the ocean to escape the flames and smoke.

Several stores and apartments along Lahaina’s historic waterfront Front St business district had been destroyed, according to Hawaii News Now.

Satellite phones were the only way to contact the stricken town, she said.

“It’s impeding communication. It’s impeding efforts to evacuate residents and we are very concerned about that,” Ms Luke told CNN.

No deaths have been reported, but a firefighter who was battling the West Maui fire is in hospital in a stable condition after suffering smoke inhalation, according to officials.

The lieutenant governor has issued an emergency proclamation to provide relief to devastated areas of Maui and Hawaii counties.

Three large fires are blazing on Wednesday around Lahaina, the first capital of Hawaii, at the popular tourist resort area of Kihei, and in the inland mountainous region of Kula.

Evacuation orders have been issued across southern Maui and on Big Island, where a wildfire has destroyed 1,800 acres of land.

“Apocalyptic” drone video was posted to social media by Clint Hansen, of Maui Luxury Real Estate, who encouraged other local residents to share images to show the extent of the damage and dangers.

“Old footage, pictures, anything that explains the severity because people are not understanding how bad this is,” Mr Hansen wrote on Facebook.

“Kihei appears to be doing OK for now but Lahaina is apocalyptic.”

Hawaii’s National Guard has been activated and is assisting local emergency services, Hawaii's adjutant general Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara posted on Facebook.

Erratic wind, challenging terrain, steep slopes and dropping humidity, are making it difficult to predict path and speed of a wildfire, Maui Fire Assistant Chief Jeff Giesea said in a statement.

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