Disasters & Accidents

Hawaiian tourist paradise reduced to gray ash after worst fires in history

Lahaina, Hawaii, US, Aug 21 (EFE).- Gray ash covers Lahaina, the popular Hawaiian tourist destination that was devastated by the worst fires in its history. All that remains of the city is charred buildings, burnt out cars and destroyed palm trees.

There is only one road in and out of Lahaina, the town most affected by the fires on Maui, one of several reasons why there was no efficient evacuation when the flames started.

The area is heavily guarded by local police and military who are protecting the remnants of what was home until a few days ago of nearly 13,000 residents, who now sleep in temporary shelters and hotels.

A few kilometers before reaching Lahaina, signs warning that this is a dry area with a fire hazard can be seen, and at the entrance to the city the structures of a couple of cars completely consumed by flames are the first sign of the utter devastation that lies ahead.

Former residential neighborhoods are now a flat landscape of gray dust, with the charred skeletons of refrigerators and washing machines still standing.

The streets leading to the worst affected areas are guarded by military posts that only allow access to vehicles carrying those working on the identification of human remains.

The death toll remains at 114, although the governor of Hawaii, Josh Green, admitted Sunday in an interview with CBS that “more than 1,000 are unaccounted for” and it will take “several weeks” to identify the remains.

On one of the beaches next to the devastated area, Randy Courtemanche looks on in disbelief: “It is the worst I have seen in Maui since I moved here in 1991”.

He tells EFE that his building is one of the few still standing in Lahaina, “I’ve seen my neighbors coming back hoping to find something, but there’s only ash, it looks like a volcano erupted and destroyed everything in its path,” a visibly moved Courtemanche explains.

Like other residents of Lahaina, he has low expectations for US president Joe Biden’s upcoming visit to the island.

“I’m very upset, I need answers as to why this happened and how they are going to support the residents,” he tells Efe.

“We have one of the best siren warning systems in the United States (…) and they never set off the sirens, so nobody ever had a warning. When you have the best technology in the world and you don’t use it, it’s inexcusable,” he says.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is the most visible arm of the federal government working in the area, assisted by local authorities.

In an interview with Efe, FEMA spokesman, John Mills, acknowledged that “the reconstruction process is going to be very long”.

“These people are facing the biggest challenge of their lives”, Mills warned.

The scouring, cleanup and collection of debris is just the beginning of a process that no one knows exactly how long it will take. EFE


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