Hawaii Wildfires Death Toll Stands at 53, Expected to Rise

The death toll from the wildfires that have ravaged vast parts of the west coast of Hawaii’s Maui island over the past 48-hours stood at 53 late Thursday night. Authorities have warned the count is expected to rise.

“In 1960 we had 61 fatalities when a large wave came through Big Island,” Governor Josh Green said, referring to a tragedy that struck a year after Hawaii became the 50th U.S. state.

“This time, it’s very likely that our death totals will significantly exceed that.”

Green said around 1,700 buildings were now believed to have been affected by the blaze, as Breitbart News reported.

WATCH: Hawaii Rescue & Firefighters’ Effort as Choppers Work to Put Out Blaze

AFP reports officials in Maui County confirmed number of dead now stood at 53, and firefighters were still battling the blaze.

Historic Lahaina township itself lay in charred, smoking ruins, with Green saying 80 percent of the town was gone.

“There is no doubt everyone would describe this as though a bomb hit Lahaina,” he said. “It looks like total devastation; buildings that we’ve all enjoyed and celebrated together for decades, for generations, are completely destroyed.”

U.S. Coast Guard commander Aja Kirksey told CNN around 100 people were believed to have jumped into the water in a desperate effort to flee the fast-moving flames as they tore through Lahaina.

Kirksey said helicopter pilots struggled to see because of the dense smoke pouring from the huge fire, but that a Coast Guard vessel had been able to rescue more than 50 people from the water.

“It was a really rapidly developing scene and pretty harrowing for the victims that had to jump into the water,” she added.

WATCH: Hurricane-Fueled Wildfires Engulf Maui, Hawaii, Forcing Evacuations

Thousands of people have already been evacuated from Maui, with 1,400 people waiting at the main airport in Kahului overnight, hoping to get out.

Maui County has asked visitors to leave “as soon as possible,” and organized buses to move evacuees from shelters to the airport.

The island hosts around a third of all the visitors who holiday in the state, and their dollars are vital for the local economy.

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