Maui wildfires: 67 dead after worst natural disaster in Hawai'i state history

The full horror of what's happened in Hawai'i is becoming clearer, as searchers start to go through what's left of Lāhainā.

The death toll has climbed into the high 60s, making it already the deadliest natural disaster to hit the US state - and as many as a thousand more are still missing or unaccounted for.

The state governor told reporters the fire that engulfed the town was burning at a temperature of 1,000C, and all the bodies recovered so far are of people trying to flee on foot.

And the total failure of the emergency alarm system is being seen as a major contributor to the disaster.

After escaping with your life - imagine arriving back home to a scorched wasteland.

The idyllic holiday hotspot, Lāhainā, home to 13,000 people, was all but wiped off the map.

Today many residents are beginning to return, standing among the ruins of what's left - charred vehicles, pieces of metal, and ash.

Even on the water, the shells of dozens of burnt-out boats bob up and down on the surface.

One Lāhainā local summarised the feeling.

"People lost everything. Homes, jobs, their cars, and some, their pets. There are still people missing."

The whole town of Lāhainā on Maui was burned to the ground.
The whole town of Lāhainā on Maui was burned to the ground. Photo credit: Newshub.

Returning residents are bringing with them stories of their escape.

For some, there was no road out of this nightmare when the inferno rolled in.

"I sat up on top of the roof and I battled the fire for about three hours. I couldn't do it anymore. And then I said 'I have to move'. Then I ran into the ocean and I just gave in."

At least 67 people have died and that number could rise significantly.

One report has suggested a thousand people could still be missing. 

Those left behind are making the agonising and lonely search for their loved ones.

A reporter from US news network CBS asked another local if he had heard from his family since the fatal fires struck.

"No, since that day I can't reach them or call them," the distraught man said.

Cadaver dogs and search teams from the mainland US are now flying in to search the debris.

"We're getting intel now that the rescue effort is severe, and we want to match that need with what we have," said Captain Paul Seawright of the Riverside Fire Department.

Evacuation and shelter centres across Maui are overflowing with residents, and tourists.
Evacuation and shelter centres across Maui are overflowing with residents, and tourists. Photo credit: Newshub.

Those who left Lāhainā did so without much, and are seeking shelter wherever they can as centres overflow.

They're in need of help, and of supplies.

"Food, gas, water, anything - clothes," one person said.

"I'm a little worried because I have a four-month-old and a two-year-old. I have dogs and just the essentials."

While the need on Maui is growing, so is frustration from some who are questioning the lack of any proper emergency warnings. 

"My phone got one ping as I was getting into my truck and that was the only evacuation notice we had. That warning was completely useless," said one frustrated Lāhainā resident.

"We're gonna look at the communication and how it could be better," according to one state official.

In the meantime, the US government is sending help to Hawai'i as it deals with this disaster.

It's assistance that can't come soon enough for Lāhainā, an island paradise, now in complete ruin.