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October 2023

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Devastating hurricane-driven wildfires in Hawaii kill 6, destroy town

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Honolulu: At least six people were killed by devastating hurricane-driven wildfires in Hawaii’s Maui Island, which also led to the destruction of the historic town of Lahaina, authorities said.

In a statement late Wednesday, Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen confirmed the fatalities and added that search efforts are underway to determine if there were more victims or trapped people, reports Xinhua news agency.

More than 2,100 people stayed at four shelters in Maui overnight, according to the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.

The agency said firefighters were able to deploy helicopters Wednesday morning to assist ground forces with fire containment. Local news outlet Hawaii News Now reported that the wildfires are active and out of control, which means a full picture of the devastation hasn’t yet come into view.

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At least 20 people sustained serious injuries, thousands of people have been displaced, and the county’s emergency response is near a breaking point, said the report, citing officials. The report added that hundreds of homes are feared destroyed and casualty figures could rise.

Meanwhile, Brian Schatz, a US senator from the state, said on social media that Lahaina has “almost totally burnt to the ground”.

The historic town on the western tip of Maui dates back to the 1700s and is on the US National Register of Historic Places.

Hawaii Lieutenant Governor Sylvia Luke on Wednesday issued an emergency proclamation to extend the state of emergency to all counties in the state as dangerous wildfires are continuing to burn on two major islands, Maui and the Island of Hawaii, also known as the Big Island in Hawaii.

Luke, who is acting as the governor as Hawaii Governor Josh Green is traveling out of the state, said in a statement that she has ordered all affected state agencies to assist with the evacuation and discouraged non-essential air travel to Maui, which is the most affected island so far.

The lieutenant governor on Tuesday afternoon issued an emergency proclamation relating to wildfires in Maui and Hawaii counties that were fueled by Hurricane Dora.

“This is an unprecedented disaster as an indirect result of Hurricane Dora passing just south of our islands,” said Luke in her statement on Wednesday.

“It is truly devastating and my heart goes out to the residents of Maui and all those impacted.” The proclamation encourages visitors in West Maui to depart the island under safe and practicable circumstances.

Officials said Maui and the Island of Hawaii both experienced significant fires. The Island of Hawaii and Maui are the largest and the second largest of the Hawaiian islands, respectively.

Officials noted that Hawaii national guardsmen have been activated and are currently on Maui assisting the Maui Police Department at traffic control points, and more guardsmen will be supporting Maui and Hawaii counties in the coming days.

With the exception of one school, all other public schools on Maui were closed on Wednesday due to the ongoing wildfires and evacuations on the island.

Many flights into Maui have been canceled and the state plans to fly 4,000 tourists out of Maui on Wednesday to Oahu, which is home to the state capital, Honolulu, Hawaii News Now reported.

Green, the governor of Hawaii, is returning to the islands. He said in a statement that Hawaii “suffered a terrible disaster in the form of a wildfire that has spread widely as a result of hurricane-force winds in the region and underlying drought conditions”.

“The White House has been incredibly supportive, and we expect to submit a request for a Presidential Disaster Declaration in the next 36 to 48 hours, once we know how vast the damage is,” he noted.

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