There is a state of emergency on the small island of Maui in the US state of Hawaii. "Everyone I know and love, everyone I'm related to, with whom I have contact, my colleagues, friends, family - we are all homeless," says island resident Dustin Kaleiopu the US broadcaster CNN. His family's home was also destroyed in the flames.
He has not yet been able to contact some of his relatives. So many people are still unreachable, says Kaleiopu.
At least 53 people have died in the devastating bush and forest fires on Maui so far. This was announced by the district of Maui in the US state of Hawaii on Thursday afternoon (local time). Hawaii Governor Josh Green told US broadcaster CNN that up to 1,700 buildings may have burned down in the coastal town of Lahaina. The property damage is in the billions.
US President Joe Biden pledged government aid to Hawaii. Those affected by the devastating fires should receive financial support from the federal government. The civil protection authority Fema is on site.
A spokesman for the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin said at the request of the German Press Agency that the forest fires and the situation in Hawaii are in close contact with the American authorities and German tour operators. "Our honorary consul is on site to support affected German nationals if necessary." Travel and safety information for the USA has been updated and should be adjusted further if necessary.
Celebrities born or living in Hawaii were shocked. "It's hard to see some of the images coming out of Hawaii - a place that is special to so many of us," wrote former US President Barack Obama (62) on Twitter. "Michelle and I send our hearts out to everyone who has lost a loved one or whose life has been turned upside down." Under the post he linked the page of a fundraising organization. The "Game of Thrones" actor Jason Momoa (44) wrote that he was "shattered and heartbroken" and called for donations.
Huge clouds of smoke hung over the otherwise paradisiacal palm beaches, residents and tourists fled to safety from the flames. According to the authorities, several hundred families lost their homes. In addition, people with burn injuries and smoke poisoning were taken to hospitals. Hawaii News Now reported late Wednesday that the Lahaina fire remains active and out of control. There are also two other large fires on the island that are not under control. Fires also raged on the neighboring island of Hawaii to the east, the largest island in the state of the same name. A state of emergency has been declared for the two districts of Maui and Hawaii.
Thousands of people were left without power for the time being. On Thursday night (4:00 a.m. local time/4:00 p.m. CEST), around 11,000 households were still affected by power outages, according to data from the PowerOutage.us website. This corresponds to about 15 percent of households on the island. The power supplier Hawaiian Electric asked the population for patience. Employees worked to repair several power poles that had fallen due to high winds.
People jumped into the sea to escape
Eyewitnesses described apocalyptic scenes in Lahaina, usually a scenic tourist destination. People jumped into the sea to flee from the rapidly spreading flames. The Coast Guard later announced, according to the US broadcaster CNN, that more than a dozen people were rescued from the water. Large parts of the historic town with around 10,000 inhabitants had been destroyed, and the port and surrounding area had also suffered damage, the Maui district wrote in a further statement on Wednesday. More than 271 buildings were caught by the flames and damaged or destroyed.
Natural disasters in paradise - the islands in the chain in the Pacific, which are about 3,800 kilometers from the US west coast, are not spared anyway. The 50th state with its approximately 1.4 million inhabitants is frequently hit by hurricanes, storm surges and volcanic eruptions. The cause of the now raging fires was not initially known. Hurricane Dora, which is passing south of the islands, is partly responsible for the rapidly spreading fires, according to the authorities.
Vacationers should be flown out
US President Joe Biden pledged government aid to Hawaii. The National Guard and the Navy would support the response teams. The Department of Transportation will help fly vacationers out of Maui, a statement said. According to figures from the US authorities, up to 10 million tourists visit the archipelago every year. "These wildfires and all the severe storms we keep seeing are definitely a result of rising temperatures around the world," said National Security Council communications director John Kirby.
Hawaii's governor Josh Green spoke of a "terrible disaster". Travel to Maui has been discouraged. "This is not a safe place," Deputy Governor Sylvia Luke warned. Tourists should be kept away by emergency declaration. The County of Maui on Wednesday called on travelers to leave the island as soon as possible. There are seats available on flights from Kahului Airport in the north of the island. However, travelers would have to call and reserve the airlines beforehand. In West Maui, however, there is still no electricity and no mobile or landline connections.