(LAHAINA, Hawaii) — Lahaina resident Leif Wright was forced to evacuate from his home in the historic Maui town as wildfires threaten lives and destroy property there.
In an interview with ABC News Live, Wright held back tears as he said he’s scared to learn about the lives that have been taken by the fire.
“I don’t even know what the body count is going to be. I’m very scared to hear, but I’m really nervous,” Wright said. “A lot of friends are missing.”
Thousands have been forced to uproot their lives, salvaging what belongings they can as wildfires ravage the Hawaiian island. Dozens have died in connection with the blaze as fire, smoke and soot destroy the neighborhoods they left behind.
Wright was trying to save neighbors and pets when he realized he had to leave.
“Entire neighborhood was covered in smoke. Four of us decided to get out of there and check on some friends,” he said.
“You just knew everything was just gone,” he continued. “And then we got a notification telling us to evacuate.”
The Aloha State has seen hundreds of structures and homes destroyed by the fires. This comes amid what is one of the worst housing crises in America, in the state with the highest housing costs in the nation, according to the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization.
Hawaii Governor Josh Green told Honolulu ABC affiliate KITV on Friday that several hundred families will likely be “displaced.”
“I’m gonna pursue 2,000 hotel rooms,” he told reporters. “I would suspect that we will try to get thousands of units…to house people.”
People will likely be able to return Friday to see the aftermath of the devastation, the governor said.
“People will be able to get back to their homes today…Lahaina is a devastated zone,” Green said. “They will see destruction like they have never ever seen in their lives. Everyone, please brace themselves… The mayor will also likely announce a curfew.”
Residents are urged not go into structures that look even somewhat affected by the fire out an excess of caution, according to comments Green made in a Thursday press conference.
“We also have seen many hundreds of homes destroyed, and that’s going to take a great deal of time to recover from,” Green said Thursday.
The evacuation efforts
On Aug. 8, the Coast Guard responded to affected areas where residents had entered ocean waters to escape the fire, and transported the residents to safer locations.
Evacuation orders have been issued for Lahaina and Upcountry residents and visitors.
Buses in West Maui have been transporting residents and visitors alike, carrying 49 people per vehicle at a time, Maui officials say. Maui visitors are transported directly to the island’s Kahului Airport, while residents are taken to a Central Maui shelter.
For those visiting the island, Maui County reported that 25 buses have been operating an airport shuttle service from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and have transported more than 1,200 visitors from hotels in the Kaʻanapali area, in Maui County, to Kahului Airport.
On Thursday alone, 14,900 visitors left on flights departing Maui, according to county officials.
Residents are asking tourists to stay home, and urged them to instead send donations or relief.
“Don’t come visit right now,” Leif Wright said. “Give us give us a chance to clean up. Give us a chance to rebuild.”
Where do residents go?
Maui county officials reported that 80% of the fire had been contained as of Thursday morning. Still, Lahaina residents are restricted from returning to the area, with Lahaina-bound vehicles being stopped on Honoapiilani Highway, the route the runs along Maui’s western coast. Passage is allowed only for those leaving the area.
“The closest thing I can compare it to is perhaps a war zone or maybe a bomb went off,” Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen told ABC News’ Eva Pilgrim in an interview Friday on “Good Morning America.”
“It was cars in the street, doors open, you know, melted to the ground,” he added. “Most structures no longer exist and for blocks and blocks of this.”
Six emergency shelters are open throughout the island, according to Maui County officials.
In Wailuku, Maui’s county seat, evacuees are staying at the War Memorial Gymnasium. In Pukalani, half an hour inland to the southeast, residents are housed in the Hannibal Tavares Community Center.
Kahului has several evacuation locations, including Maui High School, King’s Cathedral Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Maui Lani, and Grace Bible Church.
Several other venues opened their doors to provide additional shelter as existing shelters reached full occupancy.
Emergency evacuation shelters at War Memorial Complex in Wailuku, Maui High School in Kahului, and Hannibal Tavares Community Center in Pukalani housed about 1,050 people overnight on August 9 into the following morning, according to Maui county officials.
Another 300 residents and visitors stayed at emergency evacuation shelters that opened Wednesday night at Kingʻs Cathedral Maui in Kahului and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Maui Lani.
These emergency shelters don’t provide bedding, toiletries and personal care items, according to Maui County officials, and pet owners need to have pets properly restrained during their stay.
The American Red Cross also staffed emergency shelters at several locations during the start of the emergency, located Kihei Community Center, Lahaina Civic Center, and the Hannibal Tavares Community Center.
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