Before-and-After Pics Show Devastation in Lahaina, Hawaii

Shocking before-and-after photos from Lahaina, a historic Hawaiian town of about 12,000 people on the west coast of Maui, have revealed the extent of the devastation caused by one of the most deadly American wildfires in recent history.

At least 53 people died as several fires tore across the island of Maui on Tuesday, with powerful winds from Hurricane Dora accelerating the inferno (even though the hurricane itself is passing Hawaii several hundreds of miles away in the Pacific Ocean).

County officials said many of the fatalities were discovered as firefighters battled to save Lahaina—a popular tourist destination that was once the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii. The death toll is expected to rise above that caused by a tsunami that slammed into the state in 1960, leveling much of Hilo and killing 61 people.

An aerial view shows wildfire smoke in Lahaina.

Satellite imagery shows the total destruction of the Banyan Court area in Lahaina.

Satellite image (c) 2023 Maxar Technologies via Getty

Satellite imagery showed that the Banyan Court area of Lahaina had been razed, including many of the town’s most iconic landmarks. Its famous 150-year-old banyan tree, the largest in the world, was badly charred but salvageable, KHON2 reported.

At least 1,000 structures have been either damaged or destroyed in the flames, which grew so intense that some people were forced to flee into the ocean. Gov. Josh Green (D) estimated Thursday that “maybe upwards of 1,700 buildings” had been razed by the fires.

The U.S. Coast Guard said in a statement the same day that it had saved 17 people in the water, while 40 survivors had been located on land. Search and rescue responders remained “actively engaged” in looking for more survivors, Captain Aja Kirksey said.

Thousands of locals spent Tuesday night in evacuation shelters while thousands of tourists were similarly forced to take shelter as flights were grounded. More than 14,000 people were moved off Maui on Wednesday. An additional 14,500 people were set to be relocated by Thursday night, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

An aerial view shows wildfire smoke in Lahaina.

Satellite imagery shows an overview of the damage caused by the Lahaina wildfire.

Satellite image (c) 2023 Maxar Technologies via Getty

Lahaina resident La Phena Davis said the blaze had left her and her hometown with nothing.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” she told KITV. “There is no Lahaina left. There’s no Lahaina Harbor, no Mala Wharf. Every restaurant is burned. The Jodo Mission and the homes on Front Street are completely burned to the ground.”

In a separate interview, Davis recalled how frighteningly fast the flames reached her front door, leaving her only enough time to grab essential paperwork and run.

“It was such a black, thick smoke that we immediately just left,” she said. “We barely grabbed anything. I literally didn’t grab any clothes. I grabbed my important papers, but everything that we owned, and you know, in all my 50 years of life, is completely burnt to the ground.”

Other residents from the beachside town of 13,000 described a similarly apocalyptic scene. Ingrid Lynch told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that she thought the worst had passed on Tuesday morning when the fires destroyed her car. That night, her roommate woke her and told her they had to flee their house—which was soon on fire as well. “We didn’t know where we were going,” Lynch said. “There were flames everywhere and we didn’t know what direction to go.”

An aerial view shows wildfire smoke in Lahaina.

An aerial view shows wildfire smoke in Lahaina.

Lieutenant Governor Sylvia Luke via Facebook/via REUTERS

Taxi driver Alan Barrios, 53, also described finding himself “in the eye of the storm” as he fled Lahaina, forced to leave one of his frightened cats behind after it panicked and ran away. “Your heart is coming out of your chest, that’s all I can tell you,” he said. “You feel like you’re running out of oxygen.”

Laren Gartner, a restaurant owner on Maui, told CNN that the fires had decimated cell service, connectivity and electricity on the island, leaving thousands in the dark—likely terrified, lost, and confused.

“Lahaina looks like a bomb went off,” she said. “There is nothing left.”

An aerial view shows wildfire smoke in Lahaina.

Smoke billows near Lahaina.

Dustin Johnson/Handout via REUTERS

The Federal Emergency Management Agency described Maui on Thursday as having “widespread devastation.” The agency said it was struggling to assist those impacted because of the island’s relatively small size and the unpredictability of the fires, which were 80 percent contained by Thursday morning.

Hawaii’s tourism authority advised visitors on “non-essential travel” to leave Maui late Wednesday, additionally discouraging others from traveling into the area. Local attention and resources will instead be given to communities impacted by the fires, with tourists urged to rearrange their plans.

For tourists already in West Maui, a “mass bus evacuation” will begin on Thursday morning to take people to the Kahului Airport. Roads were gridlocked with traffic to the airport on Tuesday as thousands of tourists and locals alike attempted to escape the disaster. Late Wednesday, Southwest Airlines said it had added additional flights “to keep people and supplies moving,” and California officials announced Thursday it was sending a search and rescue team to the embattled island.

County officials in Maui said about 1,400 people slept at the airport Wednesday night and another 1,300 in shelters away from the flames.

“These past few days, the resolve of our families, businesses, and visitors have been tested like never before in our lifetime,” Maui Mayor Richard Bissen said in a video message late Wednesday. “With lives lost and properties decimated, we are grieving with each other during this inconsolable time.”

In addition to Maui, officials said fires broke out on Big Island, but no injuries or destroyed buildings have been reported there. The true scale of the devastation may not be known for some time.

“This is not going to be a short journey,” Hawaii Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke said. “It’s going to take weeks and maybe months to assess the full damage.”

President Joe Biden approved a disaster declaration for Hawaii early Thursday and pledged to dedicate federal resources.

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