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Maui fire death toll reaches 67 and could go higher as blazes continue

More than 1,000 structures have been burned in the fire

Abe Asher,Rachel Sharp
Saturday 12 August 2023 01:33 BST
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Hawaii governor says he expects death toll from fires to rise

The death toll from the devastating wildfires on the island of Maui, Hawaii, has now climbed to 67 – as officials warned that the loss of life is expected to rise further.

On Wednesday, Lahaina, Pulehu and Upcountry fire departments said that 36 people had died as a result of the fires which tore through the historic town of Lahaina and razed it to the ground.

Another 17 fatalities were confirmed at around midday on Thursday, taking the toll to 53 victims.

By Thursday night, another two people had been found dead taking the death toll to 55, Maui County confirmed. And on Friday afternoon officials confirmed that the number had risen further to 67.

The identity of the victims remains unknown at this time.

Hawaiian residents are bracing for the death toll to climb higher with around 1,000 people still missing in the wildfires.

Hawaii Governor Josh Green revealed on Thursday evening that hundreds are unaccounted for, as he warned that the Aloha State is headed for its deadliest disaster in state history.

Those unaccounted for are not presumed dead, he said, but have been left without communications and so their safety is unclear.

“Here’s the challenge: there’s no power, no internet, no phone, no radio. You compound some of that. So when we’re speaking to our officers, we need them to get a sat phone,” he said.

“There’s around 1,000 missing. It doesn’t mean that many have passed - I’m not saying that at all - but because we can’t contact them we can’t know.”

The governor admitted that “we don’t know” the true death toll at this time.

An aerial image taken on August 10, 2023 shows destroyed homes and buildings on the waterfront burned to the ground (AFP via Getty Images)

The fires have devastated the historic town of Lahaina and left more than 1,000 structures burned. Numerous people have lost their homes, while the town’s normally bustling tourist district is believed to have been destroyed.

Meanwhile, Maui County and state officials are continuing recuse efforts in the midst of what Gov Josh Green told the Associated Press is expected to be the worst natural disaster since 61 people died in a tsunami on the Big Island in 1961.

“As we get into the many hundreds of houses that were overwhelmed by fire, of course we have great concerns that we’ll find the remains of people that weren’t able to escape,” Mr Green said during an interview on CNN on Thursday.

The fire began on Tuesday, fuelled by strong winds and unusually dry summer conditions on Maui that left many residents and visitors in Lahaina with little time to take precautions to keep themselves and their loved ones and neighbours safe. Some people fled the town with few possessions, while others dived into water.

As of Thursday, Hawaiian Airlines was offering travel vouchers to people with tickets to fly to Maui between now and the end of the month. Sevearl airlines offering tickets as cheap as $19 to people fly off the island. More than 14,000 people had already been moved off the island as of Wednesday, with more people moved on Thursday. Many of those people have been tourists.

At the federal level, President Joe Biden has issued a major disaster declaration for the fires to unlock federal funding to be used in recovery efforts.

Federal personnel, meanwhile, have already been involved in the rescue effort. The US Coast Guard said on Thursday that it saved the lives of 17 people who dived into the Pacific Ocean to avoid the fire and had also located 40 other survivors of the fire on land.

Coast Guard Captain Aja Kirksey said in statement reported by The New York Times that the guard’s “responders are operating and searching as though there may still be survivors in need of assistance.”

The ongoing search and rescue effort is part of the reason why Mr Green and others expect the death toll to rise in the coming days. The main fire responsible for damage in Lahaina was contained as of Thursday, though other fires continue to blaze.

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