Hawaii fires deadliest natural disaster in state history

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The Hawaii wildfires have reached a grim milestone as the death toll rose to 67, making it the deadliest natural disaster in the state’s history.

Hundreds more have been reported missing and the toll may still rise.

It comes as Lahaina residents are being allowed to briefly return home on Friday to take stock of the damage to their fire-ravaged town.

They returned amid warnings they would be greeted by “destruction like they’ve not ever seen in their lives”.

State officials reopened Lahaina to people with proof of residency on Friday for the first time since flames swept rapidly through early this week, razing much of the historic town.

A curfew will operate daily from 22:00 to 06:00 local time, and some of the hardest hit parts of the town remain restricted to search and rescue personnel.

West Maui, where Lahaina is located, is still without power and water. Search crews are still in the area looking for wildfire victims.

Governor Josh Green warned Hawaiians what they found in Lahaina would be hard to see.

“Lahaina is a devastated zone. They will see destruction like they’ve not ever seen in their lives,” said the governor, who visited the town on Thursday. “Be very safe, be very careful.”

He said it will take many years to repair the damage caused by wildfires on the island of Maui. More than 1,000 buildings had been destroyed in Lahaina, a coastal town with a rich history that attracts some two million tourists a year.

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On Friday, Maui County officials also confirmed12 additional deaths in Lahaina.

That makes it Hawaii’s deadliest natural disaster, eclipsing the toll of a tsunami in 1960 that killed 61 people.

Despite some residents being allowed to return to Lahaina on Friday, many of the evacuees at the War Memorial Stadium shelter, about 20 miles (32km) from the historic town, say they are not in a rush to go back.

Most of them witnessed their homes beginning to catch fire as they barely escaped and are certain that nothing remains to return to.

Many told the BBC they were just grateful to be alive.

Wildfires on Hawaii’s Maui island and Big Island began on Tuesday night. The cause is still not known but once lit, hurricane winds and dry weather helped fuel the flames.

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