Hawaii fire victims are still being pulled out of the sea, locals say

Bodies of Hawaii fire victims are pulled out of the sea – as 14,500 more people are evacuated and 2,000 are left without a place to sleep: ‘We still have dead bodies floating in the water’

  • Kekoa Lansford said charred bodies are still being hauled from the water after the wildfires sparked mayhem on the island of Maui
  • At least 56 people died in the wildfires, while 14,500 have been evacuated and over 2,000 are forced to sleep rough
  • READ MORE: What caused the deadly Hawaii wildfires? 

A Hawaii resident in the middle of the state’s apocalyptic wildfires has revealed the charred remains of numerous victims have been washing up amid the crisis. 

Kekoa Lansford said his town of Lahaina, the epicenter of the blazes on the island of Maui, is going to take ‘years to fix’ after the dust settles on the natural disaster.

‘This is not even the worst of it,’ he told the BBC as he pointed to the leveled town. ‘(We) still get dead bodies in the water floating, and on the seawall.’ 

Speaking before President Biden promised unending federal aid on Thursday, Lansford slammed the response from officials as he said: ‘I feel like we’re not getting the help we need.’

His remarks came a day before Hawaii Governor Josh Green announced the death toll had risen to 53, a number which was expected to rise ‘significantly’ in the coming days. 

Officials on Thursday were able to evacuate 14,500 people from the island, however at least 2,000 are set to sleep rough as authorities scramble to help residents and tourists flee the fires. 

Kekoa Lansford said his town of Lahaina, the epicenter of the blazes on the island of Maui , is going to take ‘years to fix’

Numerous bodies are still being recovered in Lahaina after the wildfires killed at least 53 people, with some residents saying charred remains floated up to the sea wall

When the blazes began on Tuesday, drought-like conditions after a summer of high temperatures and little rain – combined with winds from Hurricane Dora – caused the flames to spread rapidly.

With many residents and tourists caught off-guard, some resorted to flinging themselves into the ocean in a bid to escape the blistering streets. 

US Coast Guard commander Aja Kirksey told CNN around 100 people were believed to have jumped into the water in a desperate effort to flee the fast-moving flames.

Kirksey said helicopter pilots struggled to see because of the dense smoke pouring from the huge fire, but that a Coast Guard vessel had been able to rescue more than 50 people from the water.

‘It was a really rapidly developing scene and pretty harrowing for the victims that had to jump into the water,’ she added.

After officials were able to contain much of the fires in Lahaina, Green said over 80 percent of the community had been razed to the ground. Lansford’s fears that the town could take years to rebuild were echoed by the governor at a press conference Thursday.

‘When you see the full extent of the destruction of Lahaina, it will shock you,’ he said, noting the renovation could cost well into the ‘billions of dollars.’

‘All of those buildings virtually are going to have to be rebuilt. It will be a new Lahaina that Maui builds, in its own image, with its own values,’ he added.

People were ordered by officials to leave the island of Maui as the wildfires cause untold damage

Maui County officials organized buses for stranded tourists to shuttle them to airports

Officials ordered people to flee Maui ‘as soon as possible’

Several thousand Hawaii residents raced to escape homes on Maui as the Lahaina fire swept across the island. Pictured: People gather while waiting for flights at the Kahului Airport Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023 

Stranded tourists at the Kahului Airport while waiting for flights Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023

Smoke billows near Lahaina as wildfires driven by high winds destroy a large part of the historic town of Lahaina

Residents and holidaymakers alike were sent scrambling for safety when the wildfires began, with more than 14,000 people moved off the island of Maui on Wednesday. 

A further 14,500 people were expected to join them off the burnt island by the end of Thursday, according to a news release from the Hawaii Tourism Authority. 

Many of those attempting to find safety ended up in shelters, with BBC journalist Max Matza reporting from one of the facilities that more people encountered bodies floating in the water.

‘I found two bodies floating against my sea wall,’ said one resident, who said he didn’t listen to Governor Green’s press conference because he didn’t want to be reminded of the disaster.

The unnamed man added that he was still waiting to hear from ‘a few people’, who may be among the countless people still missing. At his news conference, Green admitted that upwards of 1,000 people may still be unaccounted for.

As the death toll rose by 17 on Thursday, the wildfires became one of the deadliest disasters to strike the islands of Hawaii since it became a US state in 1959.

‘In 1960 we had 61 fatalities when a large wave came through Big Island,’ Green said, referring to a tragedy that struck a year after Hawaii became the 50th US state.

‘This time, it’s very likely that our death totals will significantly exceed that,’ he added. 

The governor said the devastated town now looks ‘as though a bomb hit’ it, adding: ‘It looks like total devastation; buildings that we’ve all enjoyed and celebrated together for decades, for generations, are completely destroyed.’ 

Among those buildings was the hall of the historic Wailoa Church in Lahaina, which was photographed engulfed in flames as the high winds rocked trees around it. 

Officials said they expect the rebuild to cost well into the billions of dollars

The hall of historic Waiola Church in Lahaina and nearby Lahaina Hongwanji Mission are engulfed in flames along Wainee Street, August 8, 2023

After hearing reports her home was destroyed along with her pets, Steff Baku-Kirkman reacts after wildfires driven by high winds were believed to have destroyed much of the historic town of Lahaina

Aerial photographs of Lahaina, which served as the Hawaiian kingdom’s capital in the early 19th century, showed entire blocks reduced to cinders.

Green said around 1,700 buildings were now believed to have been affected by the blaze.

‘With lives lost and properties decimated, we are grieving 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 resilience and aloha.’ 

While President Biden has pledged unending resources to Hawaii officials to help them bring the crisis to a close, authorities in Maui County asked visitors to leave ‘as soon as possible,’ and organized buses to move evacuees from shelters to the airport. 

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