Maui wildfires death toll climbs to 55, officials say

By Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Matt Meyer, Elise Hammond, Maureen Chowdhury, Elizabeth Wolfe and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 7:29 a.m. ET, August 11, 2023
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4:11 p.m. ET, August 10, 2023

Recently opened affordable housing complex destroyed by Maui fires

From CNN's Paul P. Murphy

A newly opened 89-unit affordable housing complex has been destroyed by the Maui wildfires and "we will not know if anything is salvageable until we can get a team in there," the complex developer told CNN on Thursday.

A CNN analysis of satellite imagery from BlackSky confirmed that the complex, called Kaiaulu o Kupuohi, was on fire in Lahaina on Wednesday afternoon. 

The complex was just opened in December 2022. The property was evacuated, but staff members are still working to confirm whether all the residents are safe, according to Douglas Bigley, the president and director of nonprofit developer Ikaika Ohana.

"We have resources in Maui, and they are reaching out to our tenants and others with immediate needs," Bigley said. 

Ikaika Ohana is building a second affordable housing complex with 200 units across the street from Kaiaulu o Kupuohi. Bigley says it appears to have only "incurred limited damage" as of Thursday.

On its website, Ikaika Ohana says it has developed and maintained several multi-family and senior communities "throughout the Islands and mainland."

3:09 p.m. ET, August 10, 2023

More than 100 National Guard members activated to assist in Hawaii, Pentagon says

Form CNN's Haley Britzky

An aerial view shows destruction caused by a wildfire in Lahaina, Hawaii, on August 10.
An aerial view shows destruction caused by a wildfire in Lahaina, Hawaii, on August 10. Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images

More than 100 National Guard members have been activated to assist in response efforts to wildfires raging in Hawaii, the Pentagon said Thursday.

Of the 134 activated personnel, 99 are from the Army National Guard and 35 are from the Air National Guard, according to spokesperson Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder.

“This includes liaison support to the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, support to local law enforcement, and two Army National Guard CH-47 Chinook helicopters to support wildfire response operations and search and recovery teams," Ryder said.

He added that three other helicopters from the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade had also been deployed to assist, in addition to two MH-60R Seahawk helicopters from the Navy Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 37. 

The Coast Guard has also rescued 14 people who had gone into the ocean to take shelter from the fire and smoke on Maui, Ryder said. 

3:59 p.m. ET, August 10, 2023

Maui resident describes his frantic evacuation as wildfire suddenly swept through town

Maui resident Jeff Melichar
Maui resident Jeff Melichar CNN

Maui resident Jeff Melichar says it was a sudden scramble to leave his neighborhood as a wind-driven wildfire swept through this week, destroying his home and many others.

In an interview with CNN on Thursday, Melichar said people in the town of Lahaina were caught off-guard by the blaze, left with little time to gather their belongings and get out.

The retiree was on a walk Tuesday evening when he saw the flames "rapidly approaching" his area, near the bustling shopping and tourism hub of Front Street.

"We had to run back through the neighborhood because we were getting overwhelmed with smoke and embers. We ran back to the house and had another 10 or 15 minutes before we knew we were going to be overtaken. And at that point, we had to just jump in the car," Melichar said, pausing as he grew emotional. "It was rather traumatic."

Melichar rents a second home on Maui to a family. They are safe, but had left their two Labradors at home when they left town to go about their day, "never dreaming they were not going to be able to get back." Unable to return before officials closed off entry points, they now believe the pets died in the fire.

Melichar said he's fortunate to still have a home on the US mainland, but he said many families impacted by the wildfires do not. He urged people to give what they can to assist Hawaii residents in need.

If you're looking for more information on relief efforts, here's how to help victims of the wildfires.

3:00 p.m. ET, August 10, 2023

Hawaii lawmaker says Maui needs "massive" emergency response quickly

An aerial view shows the historic Banyan Tree along with destroyed homes, boats, and buildings burned to the ground in western Maui in Lahaina, Hawaii, on August 10.
An aerial view shows the historic Banyan Tree along with destroyed homes, boats, and buildings burned to the ground in western Maui in Lahaina, Hawaii, on August 10. Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images

Hawaiian State Sen. Angus McKelvey, who represents the devastated town of Lahaina and lost his own home in the Maui wildfires, described a dire situation on the island Thursday.

"We need desperate help immediately," McKelvey told CNN, emphasizing that without cell phone service, the local government has no way of messaging residents to let them know where resources are available.

The state senator praised the federal response so far and said President Joe Biden's just-announced disaster declaration will be "critical." But ultimately, he said, Hawaii needs even more aid.

"The response has been amazing, but it needs to be quicker," McKelvey told CNN, adding, "We need even more massive response, right away."

The state senator said the island's primary needs include restored communications, fuel and food. He also asked would-be visitors to cancel their trips to Lahaina or elsewhere on western Maui, though the island as a whole is still "open for business."

Describing destruction on the island, McKelvey said a "war zone" only begins to capture the level of devastation. He recalled "fire raining down from the sky" during his own evacuation, as well as explosions at gas stations and a harbor fuel dock.

The inability to communicate by phone only heightens the horror for residents, McKelvey said.

"The devastation, and the bodies, and the loss, and the questions — no communication drives another thing: There are a lot of people who are worried to death about their loved ones, and they may not know if they're OK or not," he said.
3:07 p.m. ET, August 10, 2023

Biden spoke with Hawaii governor about wildfires, according to White House

From CNN's Betsy Klein


President Joe Biden speaks at the George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, on August 10.
President Joe Biden speaks at the George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, on August 10. Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

President Joe Biden spoke by phone Thursday with Hawaii Gov. Josh Green to discuss the devastating wildfires across several parts of the Big Island and Maui, the White House said.

The call comes as Biden signed a major disaster declaration for the state.

Biden "expressed his deep condolences for the lives lost and vast destruction of land and property,” the White House said in a statement to pool reporters.

“President Biden confirmed he signed a Major Disaster Declaration for Hawaii that will deliver additional federal resources and support on top of the actions already underway by FEMA, the National Guard, the U.S. Coast Guard, and other federal agencies to support the emergency response,” the statement added.

Green also posted about the declaration, saying his administration "worked through the night in direct contact with our White House partners to get this much needed relief for our communities."

Biden is traveling in Utah today and is expected to address the Hawaii wildfires during remarks at a Veterans Affairs medical center in Salt Lake City.

1:58 p.m. ET, August 10, 2023

Biden approves Hawaii disaster declaration

From CNN's Priscilla Alvarez

President Joe Biden has approved a disaster declaration for Hawaii and “ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the areas affected by wildfires,” according to the White House.

Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses and other programs to help with recovery from the fires.

“Our prayers are with the people of Hawaii, but not just our prayers, every asset we have will be available to them," Biden said at a veteran's event in Utah on Thursday. "They’ve seen their homes, their businesses destroyed and some have lost loved ones and it’s not over yet.”

He asserted that anyone who needs and is eligible for assistance will get help "immediately."

Earlier Thursday, the White House said the administration is “working very closely with Hawaii” as the state struggles with devastating wildfires that have left dozens of people dead.

“We're also deploying some military assets, FEMA personnel on the ground,” National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby told CNN. “We're going to focus on this as keenly and as sharply as we can.”

Biden said he ordered all available federal assets on the island to assist local crews to fight fires and evacuate residents and tourists.

A White House official told CNN that Hawaii has also asked for shelter supplies from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, including water, food, cots and blankets. FEMA Region 9 Administrator Bob Fenton and his team are in Oahu, and he has deployed a specialized rapid-response team to help with federal relief efforts, the official added.

1:15 p.m. ET, August 10, 2023

Wildfires deal a shattering blow to Maui’s economy that was recovering from the pandemic

From CNN's Nathaniel Meyersohn and Ellie Stevens

An aerial view of damaged areas amidst wildfires in Maui, Hawaii, on August 9.
An aerial view of damaged areas amidst wildfires in Maui, Hawaii, on August 9. Vince Carter/Reuters

The catastrophic wildfires in Maui have destroyed homes, churches, businesses and key cultural sites on Hawaii’s second-largest island. And they have also derailed its economy — just as it was rebounding from the pandemic.

It could take months to fully assess the economic impact of the wildfires. But tourism is the lifeblood of Maui’s economy, around 80% of which is generated by visitors spending their money on the island. That means $4 of every $5 the island generates comes directly or indirectly from tourism, according to the Maui Economic Development Board.

The industry accounts for 75% of all private-sector jobs in Maui. Tourist-oriented businesses — accommodation and food services, including arts and entertainment — make up the largest share of those jobs.

Maui charges some of the highest hotel and resort rates and occupancies in Hawaii. Local government uses taxes on those hotels to reinvest in supporting industries that depend on tourism.

The devastation from the wildfires could have a long-lasting impact on Maui’s economy, which had just begun to rebound from the pandemic. Tourism and spending in Maui was trending above its pre-pandemic levels this year, and the island was becoming a more significant part of Hawaii’s economy.

But travel in the coming weeks to Maui will come to a halt. The Hawaii Tourism Authority is urging those scheduled to come to Maui in the coming weeks to reschedule their travel plans.

12:58 p.m. ET, August 10, 2023

Here's what you can do if you need help locating loved ones after Hawaii wildfires

The Red Cross is trying to help people locate loved ones that are missing after deadly wildfires in Hawaii.

If you need help getting in touch with someone who may have been impacted by the fires, the Red Cross is recommending these steps, according to a post:

  • Call 1-800 RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767)
  • Select Option 4
  • Follow the prompts for "Hawaii Wildfires"
  • Provide as much detail and information as you can so that workers can help you locate the person you are looking for.

The Red Cross has also opened several shelters on both the Big Island and Maui where the fires have been burning, the organization said on its website.

To locate a shelter, click here or download the Red Cross Emergency app.

More than 2,100 people were in four emergency shelters in Maui on Tuesday night, the mayor’s office said. While there’s enough shelter for emergency response for a few days, “there’s not enough shelter for long-term living,” the governor told CNN.

12:30 p.m. ET, August 10, 2023

In photos: Before-and-after images show extent of destruction in Lahaina

Stark before-and-after pictures show charred remains of areas in Lahaina on Maui after wildfires ravaged the town.

Here's what the area around Lahaina Shores Beach Resort looked like prior to the fires:

Google Maps
Google Maps

Now, widespread destruction can be seen surrounding the resort:

 Air Maui Helicopter Tours
 Air Maui Helicopter Tours

This is King Kamehameha III Elementary School and the surrounding area as it looked before the fires:

Google Maps
Google Maps

Now, here's what remains:

Air Maui Helicopter Tours
Air Maui Helicopter Tours