At least 36 people have died in the American archipelago of Hawaii, where two islands are currently affected by several fires that nearly destroyed a city and caused the evacuation of thousands and forced some residents to throw themselves into the sea to escape the flames. He said.
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“As firefighting efforts continue, 36 people have been found dead so far from the still-active Lahaina Fire,” said a statement released late Wednesday from authorities in Maui County, the main affected island.
The fire hit the city of Lahaina on Maui’s west coast hard, and most of it was destroyed by the flames. An earlier report announced by the county sheriff, Richard Besen, said six people were killed.
The fires mainly affect the island of Maui and, to a lesser extent, the island of Hawaii. It was exacerbated by strong winds, reaching speeds of 130 km / h, fueled by the force of Hurricane Dora, which is currently passing through the Pacific Ocean, several hundred kilometers south of the archipelago.
Lahaina, a seaside resort with a population of 12,000, had scenes “worthy of a horror movie,” Claire Kent, a resident whose home was destroyed by the fire, told CNN. She described the chaos that gripped the town as “people stuck in traffic jams” amid “burning cars on both sides of the road”.
“Much of Lahaina … has been destroyed and hundreds of local families displaced,” Hawaii Governor Josh Green said in a statement.
Bridges over the city have located “more than 271 structures” damaged, according to the Maui Prefecture.
“Except for a few buildings here and there, everything has been reduced to rubble” in the city centre, an executive officer told AFP on condition of anonymity.
He added that the area had “never been searched or cleared,” explaining that he expected rescuers to find bodies. “Looking at the amount of charred material… I don’t think there is much life in there.
After the flames were trapped by the flames, some townspeople threw themselves into the sea to try and survive: 14 people were rescued from the waters off Lahaina, authorities said.
The island’s hospital network is “overwhelmed” with patients suffering from burns or smoke inhalation, according to the island’s deputy governor Sylvia Locke, who said the situation was “tragic”.
The authorities are trying to transfer patients to other islands.
According to the province of Maui, more than 2,100 people are sheltered in emergency centers, and about 2,000 passengers are housed at Kahului Airport, awaiting evacuation.
The National Guard has been activated and US President Joe Biden has announced the mobilization of “all available federal means” in the archipelago to fight the fires.
The winds knocked down several electric poles and knocked out communications networks in part of Maui. This greatly complicates the rescue mission, because even the 911 emergency call service does not work in some areas of the island.
According to the PowerOutage website, about 13,000 homes and businesses remained without power on Wednesday evening in the archipelago.
Lahaina resident Roxanne Zimmerman was among the first to evacuate the city Tuesday afternoon. According to aerial footage she saw on social media, the building she lives in has been destroyed.
“We are devastated, we don’t know how we are going to rebuild, or even if we can do it. Even more than that, we don’t know how many people we have lost.
The western part of Maui has been in the grip of a drought for “two years,” according to this 34-year-old photographer. “With this tornado passing to the south, it was the perfect conditions for a take-all fire.”
Elizabeth Smith, principal of a surf school on the island, worries about six of her employees who live in Lahaina.
“We know that one couple could have been evacuated, but we don’t know what happened to the others,” she told AFP by phone, explaining that communications remained difficult.
“I don’t want to be dramatic, but I don’t think anything like this has ever happened in Maui,” said a resident who has lived there for more than 30 years. “It is unusual for so many areas to be affected by the fires, as they are spread across the island.”
The deputy governor said the fact that the fires were indirectly fueled by strong winds exacerbated by Hurricane Dora is “unprecedented” because such weather events usually bring rain and flooding to Hawaii.
Millions of people have experienced extreme weather events around the world in recent weeks, events that scientists say have been exacerbated by climate change.