The death toll in the Maui wildfire, the deadliest fire storm in the United States in more than a century, has risen to 99 in the past hour and officials warn it will grow. More than 2,000 buildings were destroyed, most of them homes, in what state officials are saying is the worst natural disaster in Hawaii history.
“All the houses behind the store were on fire, burning to the ground,” said Nathon Holder, owner of the popular VigiLatte coffee shop on Front Street in Lahaina. Holder was on Front Street when the wildfire erupted and says his business and home, as well as his employees’ homes are destroyed.
“We run back in and we empty all the cash from the safe, grab some hard drives, the fire was already caught in the building we were in,” he said. “It literally felt like a blow torch to the face. Couldn’t see at all, it was mid-day, but there was no light in the sky, couldn’t see, couldn’t breathe, the smoke was so thick.”
Fortunately, Holder made it safely back to his Los Angeles apartment after barely escaping the wildfires.
As the death toll continues to rise, many people are still searching for missing family members and loved ones, while others are coping with the somber news that their family members and friends are among those who were killed in the fire.
“Still waiting for calls from the government, the Red Cross, still waiting, hoping,” said Lahaina resident Ace Yabes.
“I ran for my life,” said David, another Lahaina resident, who abandoned his car and ran toward the ocean to escape the fire. “They stayed in their car and died with their dogs and everything. Three of my friends, in one car, with two dogs, died.”
As new details emerge about what caused the fire in Lahaina, the state has issued a formal review of the emergency response after firefighters discovered that no water was coming from the fire hydrants during the fire.
Specialized teams, including a K-9 team deployed from Los Angeles, are working around the clock to recover victims’ bodies. Hawaii governor, Josh Green, says crews have only searched 3% of the burned areas and is expecting them to find 10-12 bodies a day over the next 10 days.
“There’s a lot of loss here and I think we are going to see significantly higher numbers in the coming days,” he said.
For those who wish to donate, a GoFundMe campaign has been organized to help Holder and his employees rebuild.