Maui’s wildfires have killed at least 53 people, a toll expected to rise, and unleashed destruction on the resort town of Lahaina that will take many years and billions of dollars to rebuild, Hawaiian officials have said.
Governor Josh Green said the inferno that reduced much of Lahaina to smoldering ruins was the worst natural disaster in the state’s history, turning thousands of people homeless and leveling as many as 1,000 buildings.
“It’s going to take many years to rebuild Lahaina,” Green said, as officials began to map out a plan to shelter the newly homeless in hotels and tourist rental properties.
“It will be a new Lahaina that Maui builds in its own image with its own values,” Green said of the city that draws 2 million tourists each year, or about 80% of the island’s visitors.
The fast-moving inferno, which started on Tuesday, spread from the brush outside of town and ravaged the historic city of Lahaina that was once the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom.
It was one of three major wildfires on Maui, all of them still burning, that were fueled by dry conditions, a buildup of fuel and 60 mph (100 kph) gusts of wind.
Even as firefighters continue to put out smaller fires and search and rescue teams almost certainly have yet to recover all the dead, federal recovery dollars have started to flow along with an influx of supplies and equipment.
Among the incoming assistance were cadaver dogs from California and Washington that would aid search and rescue teams combing through the ruins, Officials said.
Thousands of tourists and locals were evacuated from the western side of Maui, which has a year-round population of about 166,000, with some taking shelter on the island or on the neighboring island of Oahu. Tourists camped in the Kahului Airport, waiting for flights back home.