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Hawaii wildfires the deadliest natural disaster in the US state’s history as death toll rises

Wildfires in Hawaii have killed at least 80 people – the deadliest natural disaster since it became a US state in 1959.

Search teams are continuing to scour the ruins of Lahaina – a town on Maui island – with the help of cadaver dogs.

Governor Josh Green has warned the number of fatalities will continue to rise, with deaths now surpassing the 61 people who died in a 1960 tsunami.

Lahaina has been devastated by the fire

Thousands have been left homeless and about 1,000 buildings destroyed by the fire, with before and after images showing the devastation.


The latest figures suggest the fire in Lahaina is now 85% contained, but one in Upcountry Maui is only 50% contained.

It comes as investigators try to determine what caused it to sweep through Lahaina at such terrifying speed, decimating the resort with little warning.

Emergency sirens are meant to warn of impending danger – but didn’t go off.

More on Hawaii

Survivors have said they didn’t hear any of the alarms and only became aware when they saw flames or heard explosions.

Officials have also not detailed exactly what text, phone or email alerts were sent.

An aerial view shows the community of Lahaina after wildfires driven by high winds burned across most of the town several days ago, in Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii, U.S. August 10, 2023. REUTERS/Marco Garcia.     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

PowFire chiefs said the speed of the blaze made it “nearly impossible” for frontline responders to communicate with officials who would normally issue evacuation and mobile signal outages also appear to have hindered the emergency effort.

“It hit so quick, it was incredible. It was like a war zone,” said Lahaina resident Kyle Scharnhorst.

Lynn Robinson, who lost her home in the fire, said nobody came to help.

“There was no warning – there was absolutely none. Nobody came around. We didn’t see a fire truck or anybody,” she said.

Maui County confirmed on Friday afternoon that 12 more victims had been found, taking the total to 67.

“Without a doubt, there will be more fatalities. We do not know, ultimately, how many will have occurred,” Governor Josh Green told media when the total was 59.

Read more:
‘Jump in the water or burn’ – locals describe escape
Is climate change behind devastation on Maui?

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Lahaina’s location next to hills means there are only a few routes out of the town.

Some survivors have described being forced to jump into the sea as cars around them began catching alight and exploding.

The fires started on Tuesday and were fuelled by dry conditions and strong winds from a passing hurricane, but the cause is currently unknown.

The Hawaii fire is America’s deadliest since at least 85 died in the Camp Fire in California five years ago.

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‘Screams out of a horror movie’

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Fire rips through Lahaina

Emergency shelters have been helping people left homeless – with a human chain at Maalaea harbour loading items such as clothes and baby supplies on to boats.

US talk show host Oprah Winfrey was filmed helping distribute supplies at one location.

Hundreds of dogs, cats and other animals have also been injured or separated from their owners, said the Maui Humane Society.

Meanwhile, locals who still have water are being warned not to drink it and only take a short lukewarm shower due to possible contamination of pipes by cancer-causing elements.


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