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Lahaina Is ‘like a war zone,’ Maui evacuees say

Emotions rise as Aaron Abel talks about his friends at the Maui High School emergency shelter Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023, in Kahului. A large fire consumed the town of Lahaina where Abel said he and others sought refuge in the ocean to escape the flames.

KAHULUI, Maui –— Evacuees from Lahaina are still processing what happened Tuesday night, sharing their stories of escape after a wildfire tore through the West Maui township and killed at least six people.

Hundreds of residents and tourists took shelter at Maui High School on Tuesday night and the early hours of Wednesday morning, among 2,100 are seeking shelter across the island and the American Red Cross set up an evacuation center in the athletic complex.

Donations of food, water, toiletries and bedding have been rolling in to the volunteer-run operation but tourists and residents are still processing what happened to the popular tourist destination overnight.

“It was like a war zone,” said Alan Barrios, who arrived at the shelter on Wednesday morning, black with ash. “There was explosions left and right.”

Smoke rises from Lahaina as seen through an airplane window on Aug. 9, 2023, in Maui. A large fire consumed the popular tourist location overnight.

Barrios, a 53-year-old taxi driver, took shelter in his car in a parking lot in Lahaina after staying back to save his cats. He lost one in the process, along with his apartment and belongings.

He has lived in Lahaina for 20 years, he said.

“I lost everything. By now it’s ashes, nothing left,” Barrios said.

Unhoused Lahaina resident Aaron Abel says he took refuge in Lahaina’s nearshore waters, where a dozen were rescued Tuesday night.

Meanwhile, tourists have filling the airport in a bid to leave the island, creating long lines at Kahului Airport.

The line to get through TSA at Kahului Airport on Aug. 9, 2023, in Kahului, Maui. The line stretched from the security entrance to baggage claim. A large fire consumed the popular town of Lahaina overnight.

Michael Shan arrived in Kahului on Tuesday night from Seattle and went straight to Maui High School because of what was happening in Lahaina.

About 70% of those who stayed at the shelter were tourists, he estimated.

Authorities said that people evacuated to Oahu can be sheltered at the Honolulu Convention Center, which can hold around 4,000 people.

Honolulu Civil Beat is a nonprofit newsroom dedicated to investigative journalism and accountability in Hawaii.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Lahaina Is ‘like a war zone,’ Maui evacuees say