People on the Hawaiian island of Maui were forced to jump into the ocean to avoid “apocalyptic” wildfires that are being fanned by hurricane winds.
The US Coast Guard rescued a dozen people from waters off Lahaina, a historic town popular with tourists in northwestern Maui, as they attempted to flee from smoke and flames.
“People are jumping into the water to avoid the fire,” US Army Major General Kenneth Hara told Hawaii News Now. “The Coast Guard is providing support as we speak.”
The fire has burned through hundreds of acres and crippled phone lines, hampering the emergency services, but it remains unclear how many people have been affected.
A huge evacuation effort is underway and rescue teams are working to fly burn victims off the island of Maui as its hospitals become overwhelmed.
The worst damage appeared to be in Lahaina, where fire has ripped through the town, including the popular tourist draw Front Street, forcing evacuations and shuttering schools.
Footage on social media appeared to show large flames and plumes of smoke across the shorefront, lighting up the dark sky in shades of deep orange and red. Debris floating in the water also appeared to be on fire.
Other footage showed people driving through thick smoke as flames several feet high engulfed tall structures throughout the town.
‘All hands on deck’
Mahina Martin, a spokeswoman for Maui County said: “This is so unprecedented.
“Right now it is all hands on deck and we are anxious for daybreak”.
Those who are not in an evacuation area are being asked to shelter in place to avoid adding to the heavy traffic jams, she added.
Resident Clint Hansen said the town of Lahaina had been “devastated”.
“People [are] jumping in the ocean to escape the flames, being rescued by the Coast Guard. All boat owners are being asked to rescue people. It’s apocalyptic,” he told CNN.
Dangerous fire conditions
The US National Weather Service said Hurricane Dora, which was passing to the south of the island chain, was partly to blame for gusts above 60 mph that knocked out power as night fell, rattled homes and grounded firefighting helicopters.
Dangerous fire conditions created by the strong winds and low humidity were expected to continue into Wednesday afternoon, the weather service added.
Hawaii has declared a state of emergency and activated its National Guard to help fight the blaze.
Sylvia Luke, the state’s lieutenant governor, told CNN that the hospital system on the island of Maui “was overburdened with burn patients and people suffering from [smoke] inhalation.”
She said: “The reality is that we need to fly people out of Maui to give them burn support.”
“911 is down. Cell service is down. Phone service is down. And that’s been part of the problem,” she added.