Hawaii wildfires: Photos show the destruction and devastation
In Maui, a fast-moving wildfire decimated the historic town of Lahaina. A fire in upcountry Maui in Kula also left a path of destruction.
Wildfires in Hawaii have closed roads and schools, prompted thousands of evacuations, and caused severe destruction in the historic town of Lahaina on Maui, after dry conditions and high winds helped whip up fires that swept through Maui and the Big Island on Tuesday night. Maui County officials confirmed 17 additional fatalities on Thursday related to the fires, in addition to the 36 confirmed Wednesday, bringing the death toll to 53.
The winds, which on Tuesday hit 82 mph on the Big Island and 62 mph on Maui, were caused in part by Hurricane Dora passing some 500 miles to the south.
In an interview with Morning Edition on Thursday, Hawaii's Lieutenant Governor Sylvia Luke called the fires "devastating" and described an aerial flight she took with the Coast Guard over Lahaina. "Homes were destroyed, businesses were destroyed, " she said. "It just looked like the whole town went and dissolved into ashes."
The commercial satellite company ICEYE has estimated that at least 400 structures were damaged or destroyed in Lahaina. That assessment is based on radar images taken from space.
On Thursday, Maui County officials said in a statement that first responders in Lahaina are continuing to try to suppress the fire and prevent it from spreading. They said no unauthorized entry was being allowed into Lahaina due to safety concerns. Members of the Maui Police Department, Hawaii National Guard, and Maui Search and Rescue continue to work in the area.
On Thursday, President Biden approved a disaster declaration for Hawaii, making Federal funding available to individuals affected by the wildfires in the state. The money will include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, as well as low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses.
Officials have discouraged all non-essential travel to Maui. About 11,000 tourists departed the island in the wake of the damage on Wednesday, according to to Ed Sniffen, state transportation director. Another 1,500 are expected are leave Thursday, he said.
Meanwhile in Honolulu on the island of O'ahu, officials have prepared the Hawaii Convention Center to accommodate 2,000 people according to James Kunane Tokioka, state director of the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. At a press conference Wednesday night, he said it would be open to both tourists and local residents who have been displaced.
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