Hawaii: Lahaina residents escape fire by jumping into the ocean
As a massive search and rescue operation continued, the US Coastguard said seventeen were plucked to safety from choppy waters after jumping into the Pacific Ocean to flee fast-spreading flames.
One of those rescued was an 88-year-old woman who managed to stay alive by clinging onto the dockside for seven hours in the harbour of Maui’s historic town Lahaina, which has been completely obliterated.
State Governor Josh Green warned the death toll is likely to continue to rise sharply and urged residents – thousands of whom have been left homeless – to take extreme caution “because it’s still pretty dangerous.”
He added: “The recovery is going to be extraordinarily complicated, but we do want people to get back to their homes and just do what they can to assess things safely.”
READ MORE: BBC Breakfast guest breaks down describing horrifying wildfires experience[LATEST]
At least 3,000 houses and businesses in Lahaina alone have been completely destroyed by wildfires – the cause of which has not yet been established – with flames fanned by 80mph winds whipped up by Hurricane Dora passing nearby.
Thousands stranded in emergency evacuation centres are not even aware yet that they have lost their homes, loved ones or friends. Since Thursday, as many as 15,000 tourists have managed to scramble onto flights off the island but many more are still unaccounted for after their hotels burned to the ground.
Angry scenes unfolded late Friday afternoon when police briefly reopened the road into Lahaina but quickly closed it again when people became “angry” and “emotional” over not being allowed to enter without proof of identity.
Police later warned that anyone found wandering in a restricted area – including those where firefighters are still tackling smouldering buildings – could face arrest.
In another setback, all residents in Lahaina and nearby Upper Kula have been warned not to drink or even boil tap water due to possible harmful contaminants – such as benzene and other volatile organic chemicals – having been “dumped” in the island’s water system by the fires.
President Biden has promised “every available federal resource” for the stricken island, adding: “Not just our prayers, every asset we have will be available to them.”
Sniffer dogs were brought in on Friday to assist in the grim search for the dead, according to Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen Jr., who compared the wildfire destruction he personally witnessed to a “war zone.”
The wildfires are the deadliest in the U.S. since the 2018 Camp Fire in California, which killed 85 people and laid waste to the town of Paradise.
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