UPDATE: US authorities said the death toll from the Maui wildfire has increased to at least 55. The toll is likely to increase in the coming days even as search and rescue efforts continue, the officials said. Roughly 80 percent of the fire has been contained as of late Thursday but many hundreds of homes have been destroyed and entire local communities have been decimated. The local authorities have not been able to specify how many people are still missing. More than 30,000 people have been flown out of the island.
Original Story: The death toll in the Hawaiian island of Maui has gone up to 36, according to the latest reports. The worst hit by the blaze was the resort town of Lahaina, where multiple people died and thousands have been evacuated.
"As the firefighting efforts continue, 36 total fatalities have been discovered today amid the active Lahaina fire," the Maui county government said in a statement. The western side of the Maui island is practically cut off, with with only one main road remaining open, the authorities said.
Lahaina, which is the former capital of the historic Hawai kingdom, is the major tourist attraction in the US island, drawing more than two million travellers every year.
At least 11,400 tourists have been evacuated from West Maui to nearby islands, the Sky News reported. Winds of up to 85mph fuelled the blaze, cutting of the region's transport network and preventing firefighters from reaching the worst hit areas.
The blaze is still active in Lahaina, Pulehu and Upcountry, Maui mayor Richard Bissen Jr said. "Our main focus now is to save lives ... The gravity of losing any life is tragic. As we grieve with their families, we offer prayers for comfort in this inconsolable time," the mayor added.
Hundreds of Buildings Razed
Officials in Lahaina said more than 270 buildings have been damaged or destroyed. Aerial footage showed burned down houses and vehicles. "Basically, the whole Front Street of Lahaina, all the shops, the historical buildings, everything, has been burnt right to the ground," a helicopter pilot told Sky News.
Earlier on Wednesday, Hawaii's governor Sylvia Luke declared a state of emergency as the wild fire spread. She had asked people not to travel to West Maui, saying the region was not a "safe place to be".
Difficult Task, Says FEMA
The US federal authorities said the rescue work is a difficult task as the catastrophe unfolded in a remote island. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said it is limited in its ability because it is isolated as an island. "So we're going to work closely with the state to understand what resources they need and what types of creative solutions we're going to have to bring in," an official told CNN.
US Coast Guard Rescues People Who Jumped Into Sea
Meanwhile, the US Coast Guard said it saved as many as 50 people from the waters after people running away from the blaze jumped into the sea. "On Tuesday night, as the Lahaina brush fire really rapidly spread west and engulfed the downtown Lahaina area, the Coast Guard began receiving reports of people who had to flee the flames and the smoke all the way down to shore line and ultimately into the water off of Lahaina," the Coast Guard said.