Hawaii suffers its worst natural disaster
The Governor’s office in Maui declared the death toll at 9 p.m. local time on Thursday (3 a.m. Eastern time on Friday) at 55.
The situation on the ground is dire, and several thousand residents and tourists have already been evacuated from disaster-stricken areas in the archipelago. The death toll could well exceed 60, said Governor Josh Green, who pointed out that on the island of Maui, Lahaina, the former capital of the Hawaiian kingdom in the 19th century, is “80%” destroyed.
The AFP photographer who was able to fly over Lahaina on Thursday showed photos of thousands of completely burnt-out buildings on the ocean shore. Often, not a single wall has survived, their former location was simply covered in a pile of greyish ash.
“This is the biggest natural disaster in the history of the state of Hawaii,” the governor insisted to the press on Thursday, estimating that the death toll would exceed that of the disaster that occurred a year after Hawaii became the 50th state in the US.
The fire was exacerbated by strong winds, fuelled by the force of Hurricane Dora, which is currently passing through the Pacific Ocean. The fires spread so rapidly that the population was taken by surprise: some 100 residents threw themselves into the sea to escape the flames, according to the Coast Guard.
President Joe Biden signed a declaration of natural disaster, which will release substantial federal aid to fund relief efforts, emergency housing and reconstruction.
The governor of Hawaii, Josh Green
But on the ground, locals are counting the dead bodies and getting impatient.
“We’re trying to save lives, and I feel like we’re not getting the help we need,” complained Lahaina resident Kekoa Lansford.
“We’re still seeing dead bodies floating in the water and on the dykes,” he added.
Many of Lahaina’s residents are mourning their dead, and the images are horrifying; the survivors will have a hard time coping tomorrow.
Several dozen people jumped into the water to escape the flames, US Coast Guard official Aja Kirksey told CNN.
Thousands of people have been evacuated from the stricken areas to emergency centers or Maui’s main airport.
“We’re going to need to house thousands of people,” insisted the governor, explaining that authorities are currently contacting hotels across the archipelago and appealing to the generosity of residents able to accommodate displaced people in their homes.
According to Thomas Smith, professor of environmental geography at the London School of Economics and Political Science, the fires have spread rapidly thanks to “particularly parched” vegetation on Maui, which has experienced below-average rainfall this spring and higher-than-usual temperatures. With this, there are still people who dare to question whether all these incidents are related to climate change.