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At least 53 killed as wildfires ravage US island state of Hawaii

The hall of historic Waiola Church in Lahaina and nearby Lahaina Hongwanji Mission is engulfed in flames along Wainee Street in Lahaina, Hawaii, on August 8, 2023. (Photo by AP)

At least 53 people have been killed as fast-moving wildfires destroyed the historic town of Lahaina in the US island state of Hawaii.

The wind-fueled wildfires devastated much of the resort town of Lahaina on Hawaii’s Maui island, in what residents described as an “apocalypse”.

Hawaii Governor Josh Green said much of Lahaina on Maui has been destroyed and hundreds of local families have been displaced. US President Joe Biden  declared the wildfires a "major disaster".  

Maui County officials said confirmed fatalities stood at 53, and firefighters were still battling the blaze in the town that served as the Hawaiian kingdom's capital in the early 19th century.

The deaths occurred in the picturesque resort town of Lahaina on Hawaii's Maui island, as strong winds from Hurricane Dora fanned the flames.

The fires started early Tuesday burning thousands of acres of land and putting homes, businesses and 35,000 lives at risk on Maui, the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency said in a statement.

The fire is one of several ongoing blazes that have raised entire neighborhoods to the ground.

“It was like a war zone,” Alan Barrios, a local person, told Hawaii Civil Beat. “There were explosions left and right.”

Thousands of people have been forced to evacuate their homes and a state of emergency has been declared.

Many people dived into the water to save their lives. Rescuers have pulled a dozen people from the ocean.

A search and rescue operation is underway to locate missing people.

Five evacuation shelters have been opened on the island of Maui and officials said they were "overrun" with people.

People seek shelter at Maui High School as wildfires ravage the island of Hawaii. (Photo by Shutterstock)

Maui being Hawaii’s main tourist destination usually sees a high influx of tourists.

Visitors to Maui were asked by Maui officials to leave the island "as soon as possible."

However, many travelers were stranded at the Kahului Airport, the primary airport in Maui due to canceled and delayed flights, with some seen sleeping on the floor.

With scores of people injured since the fires began burning on Tuesday the hospitals in Hawaii are crowded with patients suffering from burns and respiratory issues due to smoke inhalation.

"With lives lost and properties decimated, we are grieving with each other during this inconsolable time," Richard Bissen, Maui’s Mayor said in a video posted on Facebook.

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