Washington, Aug 9 (EFE).- At least six people have died and 20 others have suffered injuries thus far in hurricane-boosted wildfires on the Hawaiian island of Maui, authorities said Wednesday.
The unprecedented blazes have forced the evacuation of thousands of people and have not yet been brought under control, prompting concern among local authorities that the number of fatalities may rise in the coming hours.
Hawaii Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke, who is heading up the emergency response while Gov. Josh Green is out of the state, has signed two emergency declarations thus far.
The first was inked on Tuesday and activated the Hawaii National Guard, while the second came on Wednesday and discouraged all non-essential air travel to Maui.
“This is an unprecedented disaster as an indirect result of Hurricane Dora passing just south of our islands. It is truly devastating, and my heart goes out to the residents of Maui and all those impacted,” Luke wrote on Wednesday.
“This proclamation is to discourage travel to the affected areas so we can prioritize our scarce resources for Maui’s residents who desperately need it.”
While Luke was giving a press conference in Honolulu on Wednesday, Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen connected remotely and reported that six people had died so far as a result of the wildfires.
“We are still in a search and rescue mode, and so I don’t know what will happen to that number,” he added.
More than 2,100 people are being housed at shelters on different parts of Maui while firefighters battle the blazes, Bissen said.
The largest fire whipped through the historic town of Lahaina, a popular tourist destination, forcing many inhabitants to flee into the ocean to escape the flames and smoke.
They were later rescued by National Guard troops.
The wildfires also are affecting Kula, a mountainous residential area of Maui, as well as the Kohala peninsula of the state’s Big Island, also known as Hawaii island.
As part of Tuesday’s declaration, Luke said the disaster emergency relief period would continue through Aug. 15.
Green is expected to return to Hawaii on Wednesday night and take charge of the state’s emergency response. EFE