(CMR) At least 36 people were killed on the Hawaiian island of Maui as wind-fueled wildfires tore through the area, forcing people to jump into the ocean to escape flames and smoke.
The Coast Guard told CBS News it had rescued a dozen people in the town of Lahaina who turned to the water as refuge Tuesday, and officials said Wednesday that hospitals on the island were treating burn patients.
“We are still in a search and rescue mode, and so I don't know what will happen to that number,” Mayor Richard Bissen told CBS News.
The mayor said several other people were unaccounted for, but they may be people who are in vehicles and haven't gone into a shelter. Over 2,100 people were in five shelters that have been opened on the island.
Acting Governor Sylvia Luke said some shelters were “overrun,” and tourists, who were still arriving on Maui Wednesday morning, were discouraged from going to the island.
The fire was widespread in Lahaina, a tourist town with a population of 12,000 on the northwestern tip of Maui. Governor Josh Green said in a statement that much of the town “has been destroyed, and hundreds of local families have been displaced.”
Officials issued an island-wide request Wednesday morning for people to conserve water to reduce demand and extend existing supplies as firefighters battled the blazes.
Some people reported having trouble evacuating due to gridlock, smoke and encroaching flames.
According to CBS, the National Weather Service said Hurricane Dora, which was passing to the south of the island chain at a safe distance of 500 miles, 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 strong winds and low humidity were expected to last through Wednesday afternoon, the weather service said.