Fast-moving wildfires on Maui drove survivors from the catastrophic Lahaina town blaze into the sea, where 17 people were recovered from the water Wednesday and 40 more along the shore by Coast Guard Station Maui boat crews.

Late Thursday, Coast Guard officials said they had no more reports of missing persons in the water, but Coast Guard aircrews and surface vessels continue search and rescue operations. Hawaii National Guard, Army, and Marine aircrews were engaged in search missions and in support of fire suppression and recovery operations.

“Today, our assets remain actively engaged in the search and rescue response and our responders are operating and searching as though there may still be survivors in need of assistance,” said Capt. Aja L. Kirksey, sector commander of Coast Guard Sector Honolulu.

Coast Guard aircrews are also supporting overflight assessments of the impacted area and are transporting additional personnel with specialized training and equipment to assist in the response efforts. On Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke flew with a Coast Guard C-130 crew to assess the fire damage and observe response efforts firsthand.   

Hawaii Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke with Coast Guard Capt. Jennifer Conklin before Luke joined a Coast Guard C-130 crew for a flyover to survey fire damage on Maui. Coast Guard photo.

President Biden pledged a full-on federal disaster response. Deanne Criswell, chief of the Federal Emergency Management Administration, headed to Hawaii to meet with state and local officials to discuss “ongoing response and recovery efforts” following the extensive damage and loss of human life caused by wildfires, the agency said. 

Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said in an interview with CNN that as many as 1,700 buildings were probably destroyed in the fires. The death toll is expected to exceed the 61 people who died in a 1960 tsunami that smashed into Hilo, the port city on the east side of the big island of Hawaii.

“I’ll tell you, by the time this disaster is all described, I’m sure there will be dozens of people that lost their lives and billions of dollars of property that was destroyed,” Green told the network.

While tourists and airlines scrambled to evacuate visitors off the island, residents are facing a long-term loss of ferry transportation too.

“There is a mass loss of boats,” Hawaii state Sen. Lynn DeCoite told Honolulu Civil Beat. “We don’t know where those boats that sank are and if we have a ferry service coming in, we can’t have unknown wreckage.”

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