Death toll in Hawaii climbs to 53 as wildfires ravage state

Death toll in Hawaii climbs to 53 as wildfires ravage state

President Biden approves disaster aid for emergency response, recovery efforts

By Darren Lyn

HOUSTON, US (AA) - Wildfires in Hawaii have claimed the lives of 53 people so far as search and rescue efforts continue for those unaccounted for.

A total of six fires are burning on the Big Island and Maui, where most of the devastation has occurred since the blazes broke out on Tuesday.

Nearly 1,700 homes and buildings have been destroyed and thousands of residents and tourists have been evacuated from the danger zones.

"Jill and I send our deepest condolences to the families of those who lost loved ones in the wildfires in Maui, and our prayers are with those who have seen their homes, businesses and communities destroyed," President Joe Biden said in a statement released by the White House.

Biden has approved a disaster declaration to assist with emergency response and recovery efforts.

The US Coast Guard has rescued more than a dozen people who jumped into the ocean to escape the fires and the Hawaii National Guard was called into action to assist firefighters and other emergency personnel.

"We are grateful to the brave firefighters and first responders who continue to run toward danger, putting themselves in harm’s way to save lives," said Biden. "I have ordered all available federal assets on the islands to help with the response."

Powerful 60 mile-per-hour (96 kilometer-per-hour) winds from Hurricane Dora in the Pacific Ocean have fueled the flames of the destructive blazes.

Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said earlier Thursday that he expected the death toll to rise “significantly” from the previous count of 36 as first responders go through the homes and buildings that were burned to the ground.

“We haven’t had a loss of life instance like this for many years,” Green said in an interview with CNN.

"As we get into the many hundreds of houses that were overwhelmed by fire…we have great concern we will find the remains of people that were not able to escape.”

Two thousand travelers were stranded at Maui International Airport due to flight cancellations. Officials said another 4,000 visitors and residents were being sheltered at the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu. Authorities are asking tourists and residents to stay away from the danger zones.​​​​​​​

"We urge residents to heed the safety warnings from officials and to adhere to evacuation orders and safety guidelines issued by local authorities," the Coast Guard said in a statement.

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