Maui wildfires death toll climbs to 53, officials say

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A devastating Maui  wildfire has left a historic Hawaiian town in ruins, claiming the lives of at least 53 people, a tragic event that has now become one of the deadliest disasters in the state’s history. The inferno erupted due to brushfires along the west coast of Maui island, driven by powerful winds from an approaching hurricane. The conflagration took hold on Tuesday, swiftly engulfing the coastal town of Lahaina.


The ferocity of the flames caught many residents and visitors off-guard, leaving them trapped in the streets or forced to jump into the ocean in a desperate attempt to escape the rapidly advancing blaze. The catastrophe has been described by Governor Josh Green as “likely the largest natural disaster in Hawaii state history,” overshadowing even the tragedy that occurred in 1960 when a significant wave hit Big Island, resulting in 61 fatalities.


Currently, Maui County officials have confirmed 53 fatalities, while firefighters continue to battle the ongoing fire in the town that once served as the capital of the Hawaiian kingdom in the early 19th century. Striking images taken by an AFP photographer flying over Lahaina display a landscape transformed into smoking ruins, with charred remnants of trees standing as somber witnesses to the devastation. Approximately 80% of the town has been destroyed, leaving cherished buildings that have stood for generations completely leveled.


The disaster has rendered thousands homeless, prompting a massive operation to secure accommodations for those affected. Governor Green stated that this effort might involve reaching out to hotels and the local community to request additional room rentals for those displaced.


President Joe Biden has declared the fires a “major disaster” and has authorized federal aid for relief and recovery efforts, although the process of rebuilding is expected to extend over several years. The gravity of the situation led to harrowing scenes where around 100 individuals reportedly jumped into the water to evade the fast-approaching flames. Helicopter pilots faced significant visibility challenges due to thick smoke, but a Coast Guard vessel managed to rescue over 50 people from the water.


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