UPDATES: The death toll from the fires rose to 36 late Wednesday, the county said.

Evacuees from Lahaina are still processing what happened over the course of Tuesday night, sharing their stories of escape after wildfire tore through the West Maui township and killed at least 36 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.

Residents and tourists seek shelter at Maui High School Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023, in Kahului. A large fire consumed the town of Lahaina. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)
Residents and tourists seek shelter at Maui High School Wednesday in Kahului, after a large fire consumed the town of Lahaina. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)

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.”

The county raised the death toll from six to 36 late Wednesday.

“As the firefighting efforts continue, 36 total fatalities have been discovered today amid the active Lahaina fire,” it said in a press release, adding that no other details were available.

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.

Footage filmed in Lahaina, Maui showing damage from a wildfire Tuesday Aug. 8, 2023. (Provided: Alan Barrios)

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

Unhoused Lahaina resident Aaron Abel says he was picked up by the US Coast Guard after taking refuge in Lahaina’s nearshore waters, among a dozen rescued on Tuesday night.

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

Alan Barrios, 53 of Lahaina, looks at videos of the fire Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023, at an emergency shelter at Maui High School in Kahului. Barrios’ apartment was completely destroyed by a fire which consumed the town of Lahaina. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)
Lahaina resident Alan Barrios, 53, took several videos of the fire as he took shelter in his car. Barrios, like several others, was covered with ash from the fire, when he arrived at the Maui High School evacuation center. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)

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.

Civil Beat reporter Brittany Lyle contributed to this story.

Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by a grant from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation.

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