Hawaii: Massive wildfires in Maui kill 55 so far, entire towns gone, restoration to cost billions

Hawaii: Massive wildfires in Maui kill 55 so far, entire towns gone, restoration to cost billions


Rapidly spreading wildfires are ravaging the Hawaiian island of Maui, killing at least 55 people as on Friday, August 11. According to the reports, strong winds from a far-off hurricane Dora fueled the fires in the city of Lahaina, the island’s primary tourist attraction, resulting in the fatalities.

The flames are one of the numerous ongoing disasters that have completely destroyed entire neighbourhoods in the Hawaii locality. A state of emergency has been issued, forcing thousands of people to leave their homes and take shelter either in the actively serving hotels or evacuation centres.

There is a significant search and rescue effort underway, but some people are still missing. In the wake of wildfires in western Maui, Hawaii, on August 10, 2023, an aerial photograph shows burned-out homes and other structures in Lahaina.

Burnt homes, destructed localities (Washington Post)

President Biden declared the wildfire in Hawaii a “major disaster” on Thursday and ordered federal aid to areas affected by wildfires, according to the White House. Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster.

Federal funding will also be available to state and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for debris removal and emergency protective measures.

Several videos of the destructive fire are going viral over the internet. The wildfires started early on August 8 and have burned thousands of acres while endangering 35,000 people’s lives on Maui and their homes, businesses, and property, according to a statement from the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.

Major wildfires are burning in four major sites in Maui, along with several other places. The fires have not been contained fully yet, and they continue to spread into new areas.

Spread of the fire in Maui (Image: Washington Post)

It will take years, billions of dollars to rebuild

Meanwhile, Maui Mayor Richard Bissen stated on Thursday that during the wildfires, all of the hotels were suggested to shelter people who lost their homes. “Authorities will not close the entire island of Maui, only the west side. Hotels will be needed to shelter those who lost their homes,” Bissen added.

Mayor Richard Bissen warned residents who had fled their homes that those structures might be gone and said it’s best not to return now.  “There’s no power, there’s no water back on the west side,” Bissen said. Hawaii Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke said that the historic and popular tourist town Lahaina is completely destroyed by fire, saying it has been “decimated” and “forever changed.”

Police face challenges as no power, internet, or radio coverage

Also, reports mention that several people have been shifted to evacuation centres. Many have lost their loved ones and also their homes. While the police are trying to help the civilians and save them from getting destroyed, they say that the situation is challenging as the power, internet and other modes of communication have been cut down.

“The death count is rising. It’s going to be horrible and tragic when we get that number. So far we know that 53 have lost their lives. We don’t know. And here’s the challenge: There’s no power. There’s no internet. There’s no radio coverage,” the police officials and the fire officials were quoted as saying.

Victims shifted to evacuation centres

Several media organizations have managed to talk to the victims who have been shifted to the evacuation centres amid the wildfires. They are worried, shattered, and concerned about the safety of their loved ones. They are also feeling helpless as said by one Kamuela Kawaakoa who is now in an evacuation centre.

“We barely made it out in time. It was so hard to sit there and just watch my town burn to ashes and not be able to do anything. I was helpless,” a man who escaped along with his partner and six-year-old son, told the media.

Beth McCleod told CNN that her mother-in-law, Linda Vaikeli has gone missing since the wildfires spread through Lahaina. Vaikeli’s spouse, according to McCleod, had a doctor’s appointment on the opposite side of the island, and when he tried to go home, the roads were blocked by the fire that had engulfed the area around him.

Linda Vaikeli, Beth McCleod’s mother-in-law (CNN)

“She has some health issues, and she doesn’t get around very well. She needs some assistance. I just hope someone was able to get to her and help her to evacuate. They are looking but we have not heard anything yet. And from what I’ve seen, it looks like their apartment complex is completely gone,” McCleod told CNN.

Control, and evacuation operations underway

Amid this, Hawaii Lt Governor Sylvia Luke has stated that the place is no more safe to be in. Helicopters poured water on the fires from above as firefighters continued to battle the fires active till yesterday. 

With only one main road passable, the western portion of the island, which is the second-largest in the Hawaiian chain, has been nearly completely cut off. To escape the fires, some local residents have resorted to diving into the river, while others have called the situation the “end of the world”. 

Map Hawaii

Rock stars, Hollywood celebrities, and business moguls have long been drawn to Maui because of the island’s breathtaking scenery and relaxed way of life. These include former President Barack Obama, media mogul Oprah Winfrey, actor Clint Eastwood, rock star Steven Tyler, and also Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

More than 130 members of the Hawaii National Guard have been activated, and helicopters are searching for those who have been abandoned in places without electricity or navigable roads. In Maui, around 11,000 residents still lack access to electricity and other modes of communication. 


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