Hawaii Gov. Josh Green called the fires that have devastated Maui and resulted in 55 confirmed deaths, “likely the largest natural disaster in Hawaii state history.”
The wildfires that started Tuesday on Maui have burned at least 20 square miles, 13,000 acres, including the coastal town of Lahaina, according to a live map created by the San Francisco Bay Area’s Mercury News.
The fires wiped out the town of Lahaina, a city that had 13,216 residents, prior to the disaster, according to comments made by Green during Thursday’s press conference.
Green said Lahaina was “gone,” and estimated more than 1,700 buildings had been destroyed. Firefighters were continuing efforts to stomp out the rampant fires.
“It’s a heartbreaking day,” Green said. “Without a doubt, what we saw is catastrophic.”
The death toll is expected to exceed the 61 people who died in a 1960 tsunami, Green said.
“It’s going to take a great deal of time to recover from this, but we have the support from every level of government all the way up to the federal level, especially given President Biden’s approval of my disaster declaration request today,” Green said. “It will be a tremendous effort, but we will come together as a community and begin working toward rebuilding from this tragedy.”
Green joined with Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen, U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, Mayor General Kenneth Hara, and other state and federal officials in a press conference Thursday that was livestreamed on Green’s Facebook page.
The island state of Hawaii, which includes the island of Hawaii, known locally as the Big Island, is no stranger to natural disasters.
In 2018, the Kīlauea volcano erupted and lava flows destroyed houses and buildings on the rural side of the island of Hawaii, affecting tourism numbers.
This disaster comes as the tourism-dependent state had gained great traction in recovering from the loss of visitors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hawaii experienced 94.6% recovery in total arrivals as of May 2023, compared to the same month in May 2019, according to the state’s Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. It also experienced 3.2% growth in visitors to 801,569 compared to May 2022.
Moody’s downgraded both Maui and Honolulu in March, when the rating agency changed its methodology.