Wildfires fanned by winds from a far-off hurricane killed at least 36 people on the Hawaiian island of Maui and forced thousands to flee as flames engulfed the historic town of Lahaina.
(Bloomberg) — Wildfires fanned by winds from a far-off hurricane killed at least 36 people on the Hawaiian island of Maui and forced thousands to flee as flames engulfed the historic town of Lahaina.
The death toll jumped as fast-moving flames swept the island, destroying buildings and sending people fleeing into the ocean to be rescued.
A White House official said the National Guard and Army have marshaled helicopters and joined firefighting and search-and-rescue efforts. President Joe Biden declared a major disaster in the state, freeing up federal funds for recovery efforts.
Speaking at an event Thursday, Biden said he was rushing federal support to Hawaii and vowed to quickly help people affected.
“Anyone who has lost a loved one or whose home has been damaged or destroyed is going to get help immediately,” Biden said at an event in Salt Lake City, his latest stop on a four-day trip through western states.
“I’ve directed that we surge support to those great firefighters and first responders and emergency personnel working around the clock risking their lives,” he said.
Read More: Biden Vows to Surge Federal Support as Wildfires Devastate Maui
More than 2,100 people spent the night in four emergency shelters with travelers from canceled or arriving flights sheltered at Kahului Airport. The US Coast Guard rescued 14 people from the waters off Lahaina with almost 100 firefighters on duty tackling the disaster.
“Much of Lahaina on Maui has been destroyed and hundreds of local families have been displaced,” Hawaii Governor Josh Green said in a statement.
Hawaiian Airlines said it added extra flights to get people off Maui. Seats on the airlines’ flights leaving the island are available through Friday, with tickets to Honolulu being offered for $19.
Extreme weather has battered the Northern Hemisphere this summer, as climate change increases the intensity of heat waves while bringing fires, floods and violent storms. Wildfires in Canada burned an area roughly the size of Iceland, while those in Greece forced thousands of tourists to flee the island of Rhodes. Firefighters in Portugal have contained a huge blaze that triggered the evacuation of several villages.
Lahaina lies on Maui’s dry, western side, which is more susceptible to fires. A red flag warning was in place Wednesday as a combination of strong winds, low relative humidity and high temperatures contribute to extreme fire behavior, according to a statement on the website of Maui County.
Across all of Hawaii, 14.48% of the land is in drought, according to data from the US Drought Monitor published this week. In Maui County, 36.12% of the land was in drought.
The Maui County government warned no traffic would be allowed into West Maui except emergency personnel and Acting Governor Sylvia Luke activated the National Guard to deal with multiple wildfires now burning in the state.
Photos posted online Wednesday showed flames engulfing businesses that line Lahaina’s Front Street, a tourist magnet that was capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom during the 1800s, and is packed with restaurants and small shops.
The flames were being fed by strong winds driven by Hurricane Dora, passing south of the islands. About 11,000 homes and businesses were without power at 7:30 a.m. local time Thursday, according to poweroutage.us. Many in Lahaina were also without phone service, either land line or cell phone, according to Maui County.
–With assistance from Muneeza Naqvi, Megan Howard and Mary Schlangenstein.
(Adds comments from Biden starting in fourth paragraph.)
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