A thousand people remain unaccounted for following the deadliest natural disaster in Hawaii‘s state history, as officials warned the death toll of 53 from Tuesday and Wednesday’s wildfires was likely to rise significantly.
Josh Green, the governor of Hawaii, stressed that he was not saying 1,000 people were dead, but merely that communication was impossible and theire whereabouts unknown.
Asked on Thursday evening for the number of dead, Green said: ‘Honestly, we don’t know.
‘And here’s the challenge: there’s no power, no internet, no phone, no radio. You compound some of that. So when we’re speaking to our officers, we need them to get a sat phone.
‘There’s around 1,000 missing.
‘It doesn’t mean that many have passed – I’m not saying that at all – but because we can’t contact them we can’t know.’
Green said that cadaver dogs were being brought in from California and Washington to assist the search.
‘We have a family assistance center set up, so anyone missing anyone at all, people can go there and give their details,’ he said.
‘If we can reunify people we will, and give notifications if we need to.’
The ruins of Lahaina are seen on Thursday after a wildfire ravaged the historic town
A man surveys the damage and films the devastation on his phone on Thursday
Smoke from the fires rises above Lahaina on Thursday
Some had been flown to Oahu for more intensive treatment.
‘We’re going to have to go building by building, block by block, trying to find bodies,’ he said.
Then there will be an initial clean up, and then residents will be allowed to return.
‘It’s going to be a long process.’
He said they were trying to ‘get the visitors out and take care of the residents.’
He added: ‘Everyone goes to Lahaina. It had the best Halloween party. It had the best fishing. Tourists flock there because it’s a neat town. I’m sure it’ll bounce back, but it’ll be a while.’
Hickman, a former member of the National Guard, said: ‘We never thought it would happen, and we’ve never seen anything like this.
‘It’s just amazing. It’s something we’ve never seen, and never expected.’
Green, meanwhile, told CNN‘s Wolf Blitzer that 1,700 buildings were probably destroyed in the fire.
He said most buildings in Lahaina, a historic town in Maui, are completely gone, some of them still smoldering.
Only some stone buildings are still standing, he said.
‘We also are only now getting some of our search and rescue personnel into other houses,’ Green said, adding that helicopters are also surveying the area.
Burnt-out cars are seen on Wednesday in Lahaina
Destroyed sections of Lahaina are pictured on Wednesday
A man walks through the smoldering ruins of Lahaina on Wednesday
Burnt out cars are seen after the fires ravaged parts of Maui
The cause of the wildfire remains unknown.
The National Weather Service said dry vegetation, strong winds, and low humidity fueled them.
Green said it was likely to prove a worse natural disaster than the tsunami of May 1960, sparked by an earthquake in Chile.
That tragedy left 61 people dead.
Hawaii is not immune to wildfires: in 2018, a total of 30,000 acres burnt, with flames fanned by Hurricane Lane.
This time, strong winds were caused by Hurricane Dora, which passed south of the islands.
Wildfires occur every year in Hawaii, according to Thomas Smith, an environmental geography professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science – but this year’s fires are burning faster and bigger than usual.
Josh Green, the governor of Hawaii, spoke to CNN on Thursday evening and said the death toll will likely rise
Green spoke to CNN by telephone from Lahaina, a historic and popular tourist town where many of the buildings have been destroyed
A Hawaii Army National Guard member looks out the window as a CH47 Chinook performs an aerial water bucket drop on the Island of Maui on Wednesday
People watch the wildfires ripping through Lahaina on Tuesday
Much of Lahaina has been burnt to the ground in the fires that blazed overnight on Tuesday
The fire spread quickly through tinderbox-dry grass and rapidly engulfed the wooden houses of Lahaina
Locals are seen walking through Lahaina on Wednesday, the morning after the fire
Neighborhoods and businesses have been razed to the ground, and vehicles burned to a crisp across the western side of the island as the wildfires cut off most roads out of Lahaina.
The town is one of Maui’s prime attractions, drawing two million tourists each year, or about 80 per cent of the island’s visitors.
The wildfires took most of Lahaina’s residents and visitors by surprise when they broke out late on Tuesday, forcing some to run for their lives and jump into the ocean to escape the fast-moving inferno.
Nicoangelo Knickerbocker, a 21-year-old resident of Lahaina, had just awoken from a nap on Tuesday evening when he saw the fires burning through his hometown.
His mother and sister fled, while he and some and friends went to neighbors’ houses, helping people pack belongings and trying in vain to stem the flames with garden hoses.
‘It was so hot all around me, I felt like my shirt was about to catch on fire,’ he told AP from one of the four emergency shelters opened on the island.
The shelters are housing more than 2,100 people, Hawaii News Now said.
Knickerbocker heard cars and a gas station explode, and soon after fled the town with his father, bringing with them only the clothes they were wearing and the family dog.
‘It sounded like a war was going on,’ he said.
At least 20 people suffered serious burns, and several were airlifted to Oahu for medical treatment, said Ed Sniffen of the Hawaii Department of Transportation.
More than 11,000 visitors were evacuated from Maui.
People gather while waiting for flights at the Kahului Airport on Wednesday
Crowds of people wait to board their flight from Kahului Airport on Wednesday
Hawaii’s ‘unprecedented’ wildfires razed a historic town and killed dozens of people after a hurricane hundreds of miles from the islands combined with dry conditions
Smoke billows near Lahaina as wildfires driven by high winds destroy a large part of the historic town of Lahaina
The hall of historic Waiola Church in Lahaina and nearby Lahaina Hongwanji Mission are engulfed in flames along Wainee Street on on Tuesday
Though at least 16 roads were closed, the airport was operating fully, he said.
Most of the roughly 400 evacuees at the War Memorial shelter on Thursday morning had arrived in shock, with an ’empty look,’ said Dr. Gerald Tariao Montano, a pediatrician who volunteered to work a six-hour shift on Wednesday night.
‘Some haven’t fully grasped that they lost everything,’ he said.
He pleaded for donations of clothes, supplies, food, baby formula and diapers.
The fate of some of Lahaina’s cultural treasures remains unclear.
The historic 60-foot-tall banyan tree marking the spot where Hawaiian King Kamehameha III’s 19th-century palace stood was still standing, though some of its boughs appeared charred, according to a Reuters witness.
Joe Biden approved a disaster declaration for Hawaii, allowing affected individuals and business owners to apply for federal housing and economic recovery grants, the White House said in a statement.