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Devastating wildfires on the Hawaiian island of Maui have left dozens dead, thousands displaced, and much of the historic town of Lahaina in ashes. As residents return, Hawaii is beginning to grapple with the massive loss from the deadliest US blaze in a century. “It’s been catastrophic,” said Governor Josh Green.
Many remain missing as frantic searches continue. Large areas lack cell service or electricity. Recovery will be long, officials warned.
The fires started earlier this week, fueled by drought and hurricane winds. Officials were surprised by the speed and strength as the blazes spread to populated areas. “We’ve never had a wildfire affect a city like this,” said Green.
The first major fires appeared after midnight Tuesday. By late morning they had engulfed Lahaina. Winds from Hurricane Dora helped the fire race through the coastal town. Some residents fled into the ocean - the Coast Guard has conducted over a dozen water rescues. By Wednesday morning, the historic town was essentially destroyed.
The death toll reached 93 on Sunday and will likely rise as specialized search teams look for survivors and identify victims. "Lahaina is sacred ground right now because our deceased are there," said Police Chief John Pelletier. "We must recover them quickly."
Firefighting continues as small local crews are joined by national guardsmen and rescue teams. Maui had limited resources, with only 65 firefighters and 13 unsuitable engines. "It's like trying to fight a blowtorch," said Firefighters Association President Bobby Lee. Crews battle flare-ups and search for survivors in ecosystems facing unprecedented wildfire threats. Experts say climate change has exacerbated the fires.
Lahaina, established in the 1700s and once the Hawaiian capital, is decimated. Its leafy, artistic streets are burnt beyond recognition. At least 2,200 buildings, including homes, schools, and places of worship, are damaged or destroyed. Hawaii's oldest house and a 150-year-old banyan tree were damaged. Historic churches and temples are gone.
Recovery is just beginning. Thousands need housing as tourists evacuate. At shelters, residents compile missing persons lists. With limited communications, the true number of casualties and missing remains unclear.
Summarised from the original article by: TheGuardian.com
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