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.
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.
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 is in place 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.
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 12,600 homes and businesses were without power at 10 a.m. local time, according to poweroutage.us. Lahaina also were without phone service, either landline or cellphone, according to Maui County.
–With assistance from Muneeza Naqvi.
(Recasts story and updates with number of people rescued in third paragraph.)
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