Lahaina’s devastated landscape looks more like a war zone than the much-loved Pacific beauty spot that welcomes more than two million tourists a year.
The smell of smoke hangs in the air as its historic buildings continue to smolder from wildfires that began engulfing the Hawaiian beach town on the island of Maui on Tuesday night.
The death toll now stands at 80 – and that figure is expected to rise further, with thousands still missing and rescuers yet to search the many razed properties.
DailyMail.com managed to enter the exclusion zone set up by Maui authorities early Friday afternoon with a small group of residents coming to assess the damage to their homes and sift through the rubble to recover precious memories.
More than 2,200 buildings here were reduced to little more than ashes, displacing at least 1,400 residents who fled to emergency shelters scattered across the island. The Pacific Disaster Center (PDC) and FEMA estimated the cost of reconstruction at $5.52 billion.
Blackened and twisted metal car frames littered the now deserted streets of Lahaina, some likely belonging to those who did not make it out alive.
Lahaina’s devastated landscape looks more like a war zone than the much-loved Pacific beauty spot that sees more than two million tourists a year
Residents returned to the coastal town on Friday to assess the damage to their homes and attempt to salvage precious mementos that have been burned to the ground.
Many have been in mourning, while others have spent sleepless nights wondering when the thousands of missing will be found
Cars snaked along Honoapiilani Highway bumper-to-bumper as locals lined up for hours before authorities allowed those with proof of residency to enter.
Tiffany Teruya had returned to see what was left of the building she had only moved into last October.
The 37-year-old waitress ran for her life as the fire moved closer and closer to her home which she shared with her 13-year-old son.
‘Let’s go. We have lost everything. Many of us did,’ she said, glancing at where her house once stood on the historic town’s Kupuohi Street, appearing to point fingers at local authorities for not not having warned the residents in time of the impending danger.
Strong winds, in part from Hurricane Dora some 800 miles away, fanned the flames and caused the fire to spread rapidly across the western part of the island.
“There was no urgency from senior officials to let us know that a great emergency was coming our way,” she tells us.
“They said on social media that the fires had been contained.”
Just hours after our conversation, Hawaii Attorney General Anne Lopez announced she would investigate critical decision-making before, during, and after the wildfires.
Dem Hawaii Rep. Jill Tokuda, also admitted Saturday morning in an interview with CNN that the state had “underestimated the lethality, the speed of fire.”
She said there are no plans in place for potential failures of her emergency alert system which is usually received on cellphones. There was no cell phone network in the area at that time.
“It’s not like hurricane-force winds are unheard of in Hawaii, or dry brush, or red flag conditions,” she said.
“We’ve seen that before in (Hurricane) Lane. We haven’t learned our lesson from Lane (in 2018) – that bushfires could break out as a result of hurricane winds blowing below us to the south,’ Tokuda said. “We have to make sure we do better.”
In 2018, as Hurricane Lane approached Hawaii, bushfires raged across 2,330 acres in Maui. A year later, 25,000 acres have been burned – yet Hawaii’s emergency management agency has described the risk of wildfires to human life as ‘low’.
Prior to that, Hawaii’s deadliest natural disaster was a 1960 tsunami that killed 61 people, injured nearly 300 and caused damage estimated at $75 million.
Dem Hawaii Rep. Jill Tokuda admitted on Saturday morning that the state was “underestimating the lethality, the speed of fire.” Photos of the devastating fires have now started to appear
Today 2,207 structures have been reduced to nothing more than rubble or ash, including those in Lahaina – where a man walks through the ruins of his home
DailyMail.com managed to enter the exclusion zone set up by Maui authorities early Friday afternoon with a small group of residents coming to assess the damage to their homes
Teruya says she fled once black smoke spread through her neighborhood, wrapping around nearby homes and shops.
“My son packed up everything he could, I grabbed my mom’s ashes and off we went.”
Less than a mile to the north, 19-year-old Hector Cardenas is desperately trying to see what he can salvage from his own home where he lived with his mother.
“Those are my dumbbells right there I was training in my bedroom.” It’s so crazy,” he says, pointing to what’s left of his room.
“I lost my car, I lost everything. I only managed to pack two shirts and a few shorts. Other than that, I have nothing else.
Barely eight hours after allowing Lahaina residents to return, authorities suddenly closed the only road leading to the disaster area amid clashes between residents and police.
Angry scenes unfolded on Lahaina Road on Friday as police reopened the thoroughfare for the first time since the devastating wildfires – and 100 people ended up defying officers trying to control access.
Footage shared on social media showed a long line of cars heading towards the fire-ravaged town after the road opened at noon.
People had to show either proof of residence in the West Maui area or proof that they were staying at a hotel in the area.
But by 5 p.m. the road had been closed in both directions and police said distraught and irate residents were causing chaos, with one officer saying riots seemed inevitable.
The Pacific Disaster Center (PDC) and FEMA put the cost of the estimated Lahaina Fire reconstruction at $5.52 billion.
Blackened, twisted metal frames of cars littered the now deserted streets of Lahaina, some likely belonging to those who did not make it out alive
Aerial view of vehicles destroyed by wildfires in Lahaina fueled by a dry summer and high winds from a passing hurricane
An officer said Honolulu’s star announcer that people parked along the highway and ventured into areas that were not yet considered safe, and became “emotional” when the police asked them to leave the area.
At 6 p.m. the cars were allowed to leave, but the Lahaina road remained closed.
Maui County officials confirmed there had been unrest and urged people to obey orders to avoid certain areas.
They said anyone found in a closed part of town could be arrested.
“The Lahaina Road has been opened to local residents to provide medicine and supplies to their families staying in west side homes who require such assistance outside of the fire/biohazard area. “, the local authority said in a statement.
“Many people park on the Lahaina Bypass and walk through the Makai areas of the bypass, which is locked down due to hazardous conditions and biohazard.
“This area has been declared by Mayor Bissen as an area for authorized personnel only, and those in this area will be escorted and may be arrested.
“This area is an active police scene, and we must uphold the dignity of the lives lost and respect their surviving families.”
Local officials asked people to understand that police and other search and rescue teams need time and space to do their job.
“Unauthorized entry into these areas increases the danger to themselves and delays our operations as MPD and National Guard personnel must halt search efforts and escort individuals,” they said.
“If people continue to disobey orders, the entrance to Lahaina will be closed again and only open to emergency personnel.”