Aussies are being urged to 'rethink' any planned trips to Maui as thousands attempt to evacuate after wildfires ripped through the Hawaii island so far killing at least 53 people.
The blaze started on Tuesday (local time) and took the island by surprise, racing through parched growth and neighbourhoods in the historic town of Lahaina, a popular tourist destination. Multiple neighbourhoods were burned to the ground as the western side of the island was nearly cut off, with only one highway open for thousands to flee.
Resorts and hotels are among the hundreds of structures that have been burned to a crisp with much of the island left without power. Both locals and tourists have been impacted by the blaze with thousands of homes also destroyed.
Authorities have declared a state of emergency and all travellers, including Australians, are being urged to stay away. The Big Island is also currently seeing blazes, but its mayor said there had been no reports of injuries or destroyed homes there.
Non-essential travel to Maui discouraged
Posting in a Hawaii Travel Facebook group, one administrator encouraged Aussies to rethink any travel plans they might have. "They are asking people to stay away to keep the resources for the locals," the group admin said.
"As Aussies we know just how bad bushfires can be so I know we can all empathise with this horrific situation.
"If you were involved in it we hope you are now safe and well."
Local authorities in Hawaii also discourage any non-essential travel to Maui. "There are road closures, travel disruptions and flight cancellations," the Australia smart traveller website reads.
On Wednesday, about 11,000 tourists flew out of Maui, with at least another 1,500 people leaving via the airport on Thursday. So far, at least 53 people have been confirmed dead with the death toll expected to rise.
Maui authorities told ABC's Radio National that there are close to 1000 people still unaccounted for in the area. There are "expectations" more bodies will be found so "the number [of deaths] will grow".
4,000 people left without accomodation
According to the ABC, officials are preparing the Hawaii Convention Centre in Honolulu to accommodate up to 4,000 people displaced by the wildfires. The centre is not just for tourists, but also for locals, James Tokioka, director of the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, said.
"Local people have lost everything. They've lost their house. They've lost their animals. It's devastating," he said.
Aerial video shows pillars of smoke rising from block after block of Lahaina, the largest tourist destination on Maui and home to multiple large hotels. "It's like an area was bombed. It's like a war zone," said helicopter pilot Richard Olsten, according to Hawaii News Now.
As the fire raged, some people fled into the ocean to escape the smoke and flames. There are reports of people being trapped in cars.
"We just had the worst disaster I've ever seen. All of Lahaina is burned to a crisp. It's like an apocalypse," said Lahaina resident Mason Jarvi, who escaped from the city.
with AAP and Reuters
Do you have a story tip? Email: email@example.com.