36 deaths confirmed as wildfires engulf Hawaiian island Maui

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36 deaths confirmed as wildfires engulf Hawaiian island Maui

Thirty-six people have died and more have been injured by wildfires sweeping the Hawaiian island of Maui, officials say.

Thousands are without power or cell phone service due to fires that are being fuelled by winds from a nearby hurricane in the Pacific Ocean.

Several blazes are also burning on the Big Island, also known as Hawaii island, a neighbouring island to Maui.

Officials say search and rescue efforts are still ongoing. But they warn that the death toll may rise.

Authorities have evacuated neighbourhoods, closed roads, and opened shelters to host thousands of evacuees.

An emergency order has been signed discouraging people from coming to Maui, which is a popular tourist destination.

“We have shelters that are overrun, we have resources that are being taxed, we are doing whatever we can” for local residents, the state Lieutenant Governor Sylvia Luke said during a news briefing on Wednesday morning local time.

On Maui, about 4,000 visitors are trying to leave the island, said state transportation official Ed Sniffen.

Thousands there are also without cell service, due to about 29 power poles collapsing. The full scale of the damages to homes and businesses is not yet clear, officials say.

Maj Gen Kenneth S Hara, who is in charge of the emergency response, said the priority at the moment is “saving lives, preventing human suffering, and mitigating great property loss”.

More than 12,000 people in the state of Hawaii are currently without power, according to PowerOutage.Us

Much of the destruction has taken place in the Maui island town of Lahaina. Parts of the town were destroyed or severely damaged by the blaze. One local resident told media that every boat in the town harbour was burning.

The US Coast Guard said it had rescued 12 people after reports of residents fleeing into the water to escape the fires.

Maui County Mayor Richard Missen confirmed the six fatalities, but said he was not yet able to provide further details.

There were also at least 20 injuries, including a firefighter who suffered smoke inhalation. Three patients are in critical condition.

He warned the total number of fatalities could rise as emergency responders conduct search and rescue operations as well as evacuations.

A full assessment of the damage could take “months,” Ms Luke said in Wednesday’s briefing. She also said that “there are concerns about potential riots” in the aftermath.

The Lahaina fire is one of at least seven ongoing in Hawaii. About 13,000 people live in the city situated on the western part of the island of Maui.