At least 36 people have died as fast-moving wildfires continue to tear through Maui, Hawaii, county officials said.
At least three wildfires have been raging on the island of Maui since Tuesday, sending people swimming into the Pacific Ocean.
The fires, now largely contained, have razed through a historic town reliant on tourism and wrecked some of Hawaii’s cultural landmarks.
Maui county said Wednesday evening local time: ‘As the firefighting efforts continue, 36 total fatalities have been discovered today amid the active Lāhainā fire.
‘No other details are available at this time.’
A spokesperson said all of those who died were in the historic town of Lāhainā, West Maui, according to Hawaii NewsNow.
Hawaii leaders said at a press conference from the Hawai’i Convention Center at 9pm that the state remains in crisis mode.
‘The whole town was devastated,’ lieutenant governor Sylvia Luke said. ‘The whole town was decimated.’
Recovery may take years, she added, with a school, church and business among the buildings damaged by the blaze.
‘This is a really tragic moment, for not just Maui County, not just the people of Maui, it’s for the entire state,’ Luke told reporters.
‘We just want to thank so many people who have stepped up to help.’
Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii added: ‘This is truly an all hands on deck situation.’
Transport and tourism officials said some 11,000 travellers have been evacuated from Maui, as airports remain packed with 600 people sleeping overnight.
Officials hope that about 1,500 holidaymakers will leave the island today.
James Tokioka, the director of Hawaii’s economic and tourism department, said: ‘We just want to make sure that people know the state of Hawaii is open.
‘If you have an opportunity to change your reservations, please consider doing that before leaving and go back to the mainland without spending your hard-earned money that you saved – some people for a lifetime – to be here,’ he added.
US military helicopters had been deployed to help contain the fire and assist the Coast Guard with search and rescue operations, the US Indo-Pacific Command said earlier, but Major General Kenneth Hara confirmed at the conference assistance is no longer needed.
He added that helicopters cannot be safely dispatched until the 80mph winds fuelling the fire have died down.
Hawaii’s national weather service cancelled its high-wind advisory and red flag warning for the islands, ‘as winds have dropped below advisory threshold’.
Though state health officials stress that the dense smoke and ash spewed from the fires remain a major health risk to people, advising people to avoid outdoor activities and ‘stay indoors and close all windows and doors’.
Lāhainā dates back to the 1700s and was once the state capital and the seat of Kamehameha III during his reign in the following century.
Local Clint Hansen told CNN that the town, on the northwest side of the island, has been gutted by the wildfires that downed 911 and phone services
‘People jumping in the ocean to escape the flames, being rescued by the Coast Guard. All boat owners are being asked to rescue people,’ he said.
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