The loss of life marked a staggering increase from earlier reports of six people killed. While survivors recall harrowing escapes by car or boat, many residents remain away from their homes, not knowing whether anything but ashes will be left when they return.
Thirty-six killed: “As the firefighting efforts continue, 36 total fatalities have been discovered today amid the active Lahaina fire. No other details are available at this time,” Maui County officials said in a news release.
Among the most devastated areas: Much of the western Maui community of Lahaina, where about 12,000 people live, is destroyed and hundreds of families there have been displaced, Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said. More than 270 structures have been impacted in Lahaina, county officials said.
Some are unaccounted for: Three helicopters from the US Coast Guard and US Navy were used in search and rescue efforts along the west Maui coastline, and a federal team arrived Wednesday to help search efforts in the Lahaina area, officials said.
Cell service out for thousands in Maui: It could take days or even weeks to fix networks. Officials have been using satellite phones to communicate with providers on the west side of Maui to restore power to the area, Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke said.
Power outages: More than 11,000 customers on Maui were without power as of 11 p.m. Wednesday local time (5 a.m. ET Thursday), according to PowerOutage.us, accounting for about 15% of the island’s customers. Power crews are working to repair downed lines and additional crews are being deployed from Oahu, Hawaiian Electric said in a news release.
Many in shelters: More than 2,100 people were in four emergency shelters in Maui on Tuesday night, the mayor’s office said. While there’s enough shelter for an emergency response for a few days, “there’s not enough shelter for long term living,” the governor told CNN.
Visitors urged to leave: Maui County officials are asking visitors to leave Lahaina and Maui as soon as possible, noting seats were available on outgoing flights. More than 11,000 people were flown out of Maui on Wednesday, according to Hawaii Department of Transportation director Ed Sniffen.
Airlines increasing capacity: Alaska, Delta, United and American all brought in larger planes to get more people off the island, while Southwest dropped its fares and increased service, officials said.
Hospitals overwhelmed: Hospitals on Maui were overwhelmed with burn patients and people suffering from smoke inhalation, Luke told CNN Wednesday. Some patients should be taken elsewhere because Maui hospitals aren’t equipped for extensive burn treatment, but transportation challenges have made that difficult, Luke said.
‘We just lost our house again’
In the badly scorched western Maui community of Lahaina, Mark and Maureen Stefl have now lost their home to a wildfire for the second time in less than five years. On Tuesday they first saw flames under half a mile from their home, and when winds picked up, the fire suddenly was in their yard, Mark Stefl told CNN on Wednesday.
“We just lost our house again. Twice in four years,” Mark Stefl said. “We just got our house back to where we wanted it, and this happened.”
In addition to the homes and businesses that were wiped out, the toll on historical and cultural sites in Lahaina has been devastating, a CNN analysis of new Maxar Technologies satellite imagery shows.
The images, taken at 11:03 a.m. local time Wednesday, show that one of the largest banyan trees in the US – the size of an entire city block and more than 60 feet high – has been burnt. It was imported from India in 1873, Hawaii’s Tourism Authority says.
Fanned in part by fierce winds from Hurricane Dora passing hundreds of miles to the south, this week’s fires on Maui and to a lesser extent Hawaii’s Big Island ignited and spread Tuesday, jumping freeways, advancing into neighborhoods and destroying people’s homes and businesses.
“As of this evening, Maui Fire Department reported no significant changes for the Lahaina, Upcountry and Pūlehu/Kīhei fires,” Maui County officials said Wednesday. “There are no new evacuations. There are no containment numbers at this time. MFD expects to conduct an assessment at first light Thursday,” the update said.
There have been multiple flare ups and officials have requested additional firefighters from Honolulu, officials said.
Thirty US Army service members arrived Wednesday night and will begin search and recovery efforts Thursday morning, the update said.
Thousands of people, especially on Maui’s western side, can’t call 911 or update loved ones about their status because power and communications were knocked out, authorities said. Hospitals are overwhelmed, several people are unaccounted for, and more than 2,000 people were in Maui shelters Tuesday night, officials said.
Luke called the situation “unprecedented.”
Hawaii is asking President Joe Biden to declare an emergency, Green told CNN’s Sara Sidner on Wednesday evening, adding that he expects “billions of dollars of structural damage.”
Maui resident Daniel Sullivan said the scene was “apocalyptic” when an inferno surrounded his neighborhood Tuesday and inched closer.
His children were sleeping downstairs in his home as he watched from the roof all night, preparing to go when flames got too close. Sullivan saw the fire get “closer and closer – and we had no way to get out because the roads were blocked.”
His home survived, but many friends lost theirs, he said. “The island has been decimated,” Sullivan said.
Braintin Stevens left a burning Lahaina Harbor by boat Tuesday, he told CNN, sharing a video of thick, black smoke rising from the harbor as he departed.
The Coast Guard used a 45-foot boat to rescue 14 people who had fled into the water off Lahaina on Tuesday to escape advancing flames, the service said.
“These past few days the resolve of our families, businesses and visitors have been tested like never before in our lifetime,” Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen Jr. said in a video message posted to Facebook on Thursday night. “With lives lost and properties decimated, we are grieving with each other during this inconsolable time,” he said, adding that in the days ahead, the community will “rebuild with resilience.”
‘We have no more Lahaina’
Helicopter footage shows scores of structures on Maui burned to the ground, many of them in the historic town of Lahaina, a tourist and economic hub on the west side of the island.
“It looked like an area that had been bombed in the war,” Richie Olsten, a pilot who flew a helicopter over Maui on Wednesday afternoon, told CNN’s Jake Tapper.
Lahaina resident Alan Dickar watched one of his houses burn and the other engulfed in smoke as he evacuated.
“There is a very good chance that they are not there anymore,” Dickar said Wednesday.
Maui resident Jeff Melichar had to evacuate Tuesday evening as embers and smoke enveloped his home.
“I am told my house is gone, but we are not yet allowed access to West Maui,” he said.
Luke said she got to see the destruction in Lahaina firsthand during a flyover on Wednesday, calling it “shocking and devastating.” “The whole town was decimated,” Luke said.
“We’re still trying to assess the amount of damage but the road to recovery will be long,” Luke said. “It’s going to take years.”
Several buildings on historically significant Front Street have been destroyed, the satellite imagery from Maxar technologies shows. In central Lahaina, smoke is still seen rising from the Kohola Brewery building.
The Lahaina Heritage Museum, located just west of the destroyed banyan tree, could be seen with its roof collapsed and only walls still standing. Just north of the tree, another important historical site, the Baldwin Home Museum, has been reduced to ash.
Farther north, the Wo Hing Temple Museum has been destroyed.
“We have no more Lahaina. It’s gone,” Stefl, the man who lost his home for a second time, told CNN on Wednesday.
Stefl, who was staying with his wife at a friend’s house on the other side of Maui on Wednesday, said he would “rebuild, like we did before.”
“We love it here. We have a lot of friends here. We’ll get through this,” he said.