No Filipinos have been killed or injured by the wildfires on the Hawaiian island of Maui that have turned entire neighborhoods into smoky wastelands, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
Hawaii authorities said the wildfire, which started Tuesday and ripped through Maui, had grown to more than 50 as of Friday, forcing thousands of residents and tourists to evacuate.
“There were no reported affected foreign nationals, including Filipinos,” Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Eduardo de Vega said during the Laging Handa briefing, citing information from Consul General Emil Fernandez and the Hawaiian government.
De Vega said the government has been monitoring the situation and “the good news is that no Filipinos have been affected so far.”
In a Facebook post, the Philippine Consulate in Honolulu advised Filipinos to “take precautions, evacuate their homes if ordered, and regularly check for updates from local authorities.”
The Consulate provided an emergency hotline, (808) 253-9446, in case Filipinos needed assistance.
According to a 2011 University of Hawaii report, the 2000 US Census said Filipinos and part-Filipinos made up 275,728, or nearly 23 percent, of Hawaii’s population. About 70 percent of them lived on the island of O’ahu.
among the deadliest
The terrifying wildfire that left the historic Maui town of Lahaina in charred ruins has killed at least 55 people, making it one of the deadliest disasters in US state history, Hawaiian authorities said Thursday.
Wildfires on the west coast of the Hawaiian island of Maui, fueled by strong winds from a nearby typhoon, broke out Tuesday and quickly engulfed the coastal city.
The flames moved so fast that many were caught off guard, trapped in the streets or jumping into the ocean in a desperate attempt to escape.
“It really looks like someone came and shelled the whole city. He is completely devastated,” said Canadian Brandon Wilson, who had traveled to Hawaii with his wife to celebrate his 25th birthday but was at the airport trying to get them a flight.
“It was really hard to watch,” she said, her eyes teary. “You feel so bad for people. They lost their homes, their lives, their livelihoods.”
The fires followed other extreme weather events in North America this summer, with record-breaking wildfires still burning in Canada and a major heat wave in the southwestern US.
Europe and parts of Asia have also endured high temperatures, with large fires and floods wreaking havoc.
“What we have seen today has been catastrophic…probably the largest natural disaster in the history of the state of Hawaii,” Governor Josh Green said.
“In 1960 we had 61 deaths when a big wave came over the Big Island,” he said earlier in the day, referring to a tragedy that occurred a year after Hawaii became the 50th US state.
“This time, it’s very likely that our death totals will significantly exceed that.”
Maui county officials said shortly after 9 p.m. Thursday (0700 GMT Friday) that deaths stood at 55 and firefighters were still battling blazes in the city that was the capital of the Hawaiian kingdom to early 19th century.
Images taken by an AFP photographer who flew over Lahaina showed it had been reduced to blackened and smoking ruins.
The skeletons of burned trees still stand, rising above the ashes of the buildings they once provided shelter.
Green said 80 percent of the city was gone.
“The buildings that we have all enjoyed and celebrated together for decades, for generations, are completely destroyed,” he said.
Thousands have been left homeless and Green said a massive operation to find housing was underway.
“We are going to need to house thousands of people,” he said at a press conference.
“That will mean reaching out to all of our hotels and community members to ask people to rent additional rooms at their property.”
President Joe Biden on Thursday declared the fires a “major disaster” and unlocked federal aid for relief efforts, with rebuilding expected to take years.
US Coast Guard Commandant Aja Kirksey told CNN about 100 people are believed to have jumped into the water in a desperate effort to flee the rapidly advancing flames as it tore through Lahaina.
Kirksey said helicopter pilots had trouble seeing because of the thick smoke, but a Coast Guard boat had been able to rescue more than 50 people from the water.
“It was a scene that unfolded very quickly and quite heartbreaking for the victims who had to jump into the water,” he added.
far from over
For resident Kekoa Lansford, the horror was far from over.
“We still have bodies floating in the water and on the boardwalk,” Lansford told CBS.
“We’ve been getting people out… We’re trying to save people’s lives, and I feel like we’re not getting the help that we need.”
Green said around 1,700 buildings are believed to have been affected by the fire.
“With lives lost and property decimated, we grieve with each other during this inconsolable time,” Maui Mayor Richard Bissen said.
“In the days ahead, we will be stronger as a…community,” he added, “as we rebuild with resiliency and aloha.”
Thousands of people have already been evacuated from Maui, with 1,400 people waiting at the main Kahului airport overnight, hoping to get out.
Maui County has asked visitors to leave “as soon as possible” and has organized buses to transfer evacuees from shelters to the airport.
fanned by the storm
The island is home to about a third of all visitors who vacation in the state, and their dollars are vital to the local economy.
At the Kahului airport, Lorraina Peterson said she had been stuck for days without food or power, and now expected a long wait for a flight.
“I don’t know if we will be able to get a hotel room or we will have to sleep here on the floor,” he said.
With a typhoon passing through southern Hawaii, strong winds fanned flames that consumed dry vegetation.
Thomas Smith, a professor at the London School of Economics, said that while wildfires are not uncommon in Hawaii, this year’s blazes “are burning a larger area than usual, and fire behavior is extreme, with rates of fast spread and big flames. ”
As global temperatures rise over time, heat waves are projected to become more frequent, with increased drought due to changes in rainfall patterns creating ideal conditions for wildfires or brush fires.
—WITH REPORTS BY NESTOR CORRALES AND AFP
DFA: No Filipinos Injured in Hawaii Fires
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