Hawaii death toll expected to rise after deadliest wildfire in US history

Maui Police Chief John Pelletier said the death toll is likely to grow and 'none of us really know the size of it yet'.

At least 96 people have died in devastating wildfires that have destroyed the historic town of Maui in Hawaii, making it the most deadly wildfire in US history.

Maui Police Chief John Pelletier said the death toll is likely to grow and “none of us really know the size of it yet”, as efforts to find and identify the dead were still in their early stages.

Crews with cadaver dogs have covered only 3% of the search area, he said, adding: “We’ve got an area that we have to contain that is at least five square miles and it is full of our loved ones.”

He spoke as emergency workers picked through the ashen moonscape left by the fire that razed the centuries-old town of Lahaina.

ITV News correspondent Peter Smith reports live from the devastated community of Kula, on the island of Maui

Teams marked the ruins of homes with a bright orange X to record an initial search, and HR when they found human remains.

Dogs worked through the rubble, and their occasional bark – used to alert their handlers to a possible corpse – echoed over the hot and colourless landscape.

The Catholic bishop of the Diocese of Honolulu celebrated Mass on Sunday at a church in Kapalua – just up the road from fire-ravaged Lahaina – and urged those reeling from the wildfire not to give up hope.

During the Mass, Silva read a message from Pope Francis that he was praying for those who lost loved ones, homes and livelihoods – as well as for first responders.

The Lahaina church survived the fire even though the adjoining Catholic school burned.

Administrators are exploring potentially holding classes for the 200 students in hotel ballrooms and conference rooms.

Hawaii officials have urged tourists to avoid traveling to Maui as many hotels prepared to house evacuees and first responders.

Maui water officials warned Lahaina and Kula residents not to drink running water, which may be contaminated even after boiling, and to only take short, lukewarm showers in well-ventilated rooms to avoid possible chemical vapour exposure.

About 46,000 residents and visitors have flown out of Kahului Airport in West Maui since the devastation in Lahaina became clear on Wednesday, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

Governor Josh Green said 500 hotels rooms will be made available for locals who have been displaced.

An additional 500 rooms will be set aside for workers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Some hotels will carry on with normal business to help preserve jobs and sustain the local economy, Green said.

The state wants to work with Airbnb to make sure that rental homes can be made available for locals.

Volunteers unload donations on Kaanapali Beach. / Credit: AP

Green hopes that the company will be able to provide three- to nine-month rentals for those who have lost homes.

“There’s very little left there,” Green said, holding up a map of the area titled “Buildings Damaged in Maui Wildfires Lahaina Area.”

More than 2,700 structures were destroyed in Lahaina and “an estimated value of $5.6 billion (£4.4 billion) has gone away.”

But mostly there are people suffering and the government is continuing to work to find them, he said in a video statement.

“I will tell you this, as a physician, it is a harrowing sight in Maui,” Green said.

“When those providers, the police and this division, do come across scenes in houses or businesses it is very difficult for them because they know, ultimately, they will be sharing with our people that there have been more fatalities. I do expect the numbers to rise.”

British rock star Mick Fleetwood has said the wildfires have left “complete devastation” in the town of Lahaina, as well as destroying his restaurant Fleetwood’s On Front Street.

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