Wildfires have absolutely devastated Hawaii – and they’ve continued to spread across multiple areas of the US state.
At least 55 people have been killed and the historic town of Lahaina – a tourist hotspot dating back to the 1700s – is now almost completely burnt to the ground.
Children were among those fleeing into the Pacific Ocean in a desperate attempt to escape the apocalyptic scenes on the west coast of Maui County.
Amid an emergency evacuation, debris swirled, buildings exploded and flames tore through homes, fuelled by strong gusts of up to 85mph from Hurricane Dora to the south.
Dozens more have been injured in the catastrophe and Hawaian leaders said the state remains in crisis mode with more than 11,400 tourists evacuated to nearby islands.
‘The whole town was decimated,’ said lieutenant governor Sylvia Luke. ‘This is a really tragic moment, for not just Maui County, not just the people of Maui, it’s for the entire state.’
Where are the Hawaii fires?
Maui is the worst affected with wildfires burning predominantly on the west of the island in Lahaina, Kaanapali, Pulehu and Upcountry.
Wildfires have also been reported on the Island of Hawaii, nicknamed The Big Island, near Kohala and Kona towards the northwest.
The Big Island’s mayor Mitch Roth said there had been no reports of injuries or destroyed homes there.
However, firefighters have extinguished some roof fires and there were continuing flareups of one fire near the Mauna Kea resorts.
Officials say at least 271 structures have been damaged or destroyed on Maui and also fear the death toll could rise further.
The fires are the latest in a series of problems caused by extreme weather around the world this summer. Experts say climate change is increasing the likelihood of such events.
As winds eased somewhat on Maui, some flights resumed on Wednesday, allowing pilots to view the full scope of the devastation.
Aerial footage from Lahaina showed dozens of homes and businesses razed, including on Front Street, where tourists once gathered to shop and dine.
Smoking heaps of rubble lay piled high next to the waterfront, boats in the harbour were scorched and smoke hovered over the leafless skeletons of charred trees.
‘It’s horrifying. I’ve flown here 52 years and I’ve never seen anything come close to that,’ said Richard Olsten, a helicopter pilot for a tour company.
’We had tears in our eyes.’
Images taken from aircraft showed a state of ruin on the land below.
Ms Luke said recovery from the disaster may take years, with a school, church and business among the buildings damaged.
Local Clint Hansen told CNN: ‘People jumping in the ocean to escape the flames, being rescued by the Coast Guard. All boat owners are being asked to rescue people.
Maui County mayor, Richard Bissen, issued a public video message on social media and said ‘tragedy that hits one of us is felt by all of us’.
He said: ‘These past few days, the resolve of our families, businesses and visitors have been tested like never before in our lifetime.
‘With lives lost and properties decimated, we are grieving with each other during this inconsolable time.
‘We are truly grateful for our first responders and emergency personnel whose own families and friends have been affected by the Lahaina and Upcountry fires.
‘Our emergency operation centre has been fully activated and we are fortunate to be able to work together with our federal, state, county and business partners as we make our way through this crisis.
‘Even though we are hurting, we are still able to move forward, especially when we do it together.
‘In the days ahead, we will be stronger as a “kaiaulu” or community as we rebuild with resilience and aloha.’
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