'I was trapped': Maui fire survivors speak out as emergency declared
An emergency proclamation was extended for all Hawaii counties on Wednesday.
Hawaii residents recounted fleeing from deadly, ferocious wildfires, which have prompted an emergency proclamation from the acting governor.
"We started smelling the smoke, and that's when we knew we had trouble," Maui resident Steve Scott ABC News' Gio Benitez on Wednesday. "It came, and it came quick."
The wildfires are spreading rapidly in very dry conditions combined with powerful trade winds being squeezed across Hawaii. The winds are being caused by a strong high pressure system to the north and a strong low pressure system -- Hurricane Dora -- well to the south.
Scott said they had winds "like we've never had before." He said he tried to fight the fire with a hose before managing to flee.
"I was trapped," he said. "We had to run to the harbor."
Maui resident Malika Dudley described to ABC News Live on Wednesday her experience evacuating from the raging wildfires with her two children in the middle of the night.
"We were in the very first evacuation at 1 a.m. I started to smell smoke in my home, and I woke my husband up and he said, 'Oh, don't worry about it.' At 1:30, I thought, 'No, something's on fire in our house.'"
Eventually, they got a call from their neighbor and the fire was right above their property.
"We got a call from our neighbor who said, 'Get out of your house.' And we looked out the window and there was a red glow outside of our window," she said. "The fire was right above our property."
Currently in Haliimaile, which is on the slopes of Haleakalā, Dudley can still see the fire from the mountain growing and spreading.
Scott said the loss is "horrible," especially along Front Street in downtown Lahaina, just as the tourist-driven area started to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I don't know if we can recover from this," he said.
Travel discouraged amid emergency
The emergency proclamation was issued for Hawaii's Maui and Hawaii counties on Tuesday by acting Gov. Sylvia Luke. On Wednesday, the emergency proclamation was extended to all counties and non-essential air travel to Maui is now being discouraged. All affected state agencies have also been ordered to assist with the evacuation.
The proclamation encourages visitors in West Maui to depart the island as soon as safe and practicable.
"We are closely following the wildfires caused by the strong winds of Hurricane Dora," Luke said. "The safety of our residents is paramount, and this emergency proclamation will activate the Hawaii National Guard to support emergency responders in the impacted communities."
In addition to Hawaii's National Guard being activated to assist with the fires on Maui and the Big Island, the U.S. Army's 25th Infantry Division will be sending helicopters to help with fire suppression if the winds die down enough, according to Jeff Hickman, a spokesman for Hawaii's Department of Defense.
The National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning for the leeward portions of all Hawaiian Islands.
As of Tuesday night, six fires have burned over 1,800 acres across Maui and the Big Island. Officials said the situation on Maui is very dynamic and fast-moving.
Evacuations were in place Tuesday near two fires burning near Maui -- the Lahaina and Upcountry Maui fires, county officials said.
"Multiple structures have burned and multiple evacuations are in place, as firefighter crews continue battling brush and structure fires in Upcountry and Lahaina areas," officials said in a statement. "In West Maui, fire crews from Napili, Lahaina, Kihei and Wailuku responded to the fast-moving fire, which was fueled by strong winds as Hurricane Dora passed well south of Hawaii."
The U.S. Coast Guard and other agencies are also responding. The Coast Guard's Hawaii Pacific patrol said they successfully rescued 12 people from the waters off Lahaina. The individuals are believed to have jumped into the water to escape the flames, according to the state's EMA.
There has been no formal closure of Kahului Airport, the main airport on Maui, but there have been disruptions from the smoke. Travelers should check with their airlines for their flight status, according to the EMA.
About 1,800 people sheltered at Kahului Airport overnight, according to the Hawaii Department of Transportation.
The Hawaii DOT has also urged visitors to leave Maui if possible and not travel to the island. The warnings have caused panic on flights headed to the island.
An Alaska Airlines flight from Los Angeles International Airport to Maui has been delayed for hours and twice allowed passengers off the plane after being told about the conditions on the island.
"I was going to West Maui but don't know if I am anymore because I guess it's on fire and they're evacuating people to Honolulu," Sam Herring, a passenger still on the plane, told ABC News. "I was going to stay with somebody I know on the west side but now I guess I'm going to sleep in the rental car."
A community struggling to cope
Employees at the Nakamura Mortuary in Wailuku, are no stranger to dealing with death -- but usually, it's other people's losses. Now, loss has hit home in an unimaginably painful way. One employee told ABC News she's still in shock and can’t reach family members in Lahaina.
"We're still trying to gather ourselves. It's still very fresh. There's still a lot to be done," she told ABC News over the phone.
Since the Maui wildfires, the calls she says she's received aren't to make funeral arrangements for those lost -- it's people calling to see if she has information on their missing loved ones. She doesn't.
"We really have no answers for them which makes it even harder," she said. "It is getting a little overwhelming, but I know there's more that's coming."
"I don't know how to explain it, we want to do so much, but you can't because you're stuck. This has never happened," she said.
Even as the death toll continues to rise, the employee said she's still coming to terms with what has happened.
"I'm kind of just trying to -- I'm in shock. I just don't want to believe that this happened," she said. "And today it's raining. Where was the rain yesterday? Where was it the day before?"
She says she has relatives who lost their homes -- and family members are still missing, both elderly and teenaged. They were last in Lahaina, and haven't been heard from in 48 hours, she said.
"I am hoping they will be found but it's in the back of my mind, I just don't want to get that call," she said.
The not knowing is hard, too.
"I'm hoping for the best," she said. "I pray this will bring us together to help each other."
Alani Wun is a funeral arranger at Norman's Mortuary. She's lived in Maui all her life.
"This was my childhood playground," she said. "This doesn't ever happen here. ... It's hard to imagine."
Wun says she thinks it's too early for any calls about arrangements for wildfire deaths -- that process will take time, she said.
She says Norman's is "prepared and ready to help" their community when the time comes.
"I am part of the ohana of Lahaina," Wun said.
Another funeral arranger at Norman's, Aloha Puaa, described this as a "devastating moment," adding, "we just ask that everyone pray for the Lahaina family and all of Maui."
ABC News' Luis Martinez, Will Carr, Timmy Truong and Marilyn Heck contributed to this report.
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