Over a thousand residents in Maui, Hawaii, are missing in the wake of an unprecedented disaster – a devastating firestorm that ripped through the island, leaving behind a charred landscape and countless destroyed homes in its wake.
As firefighters continued to battle raging flames fueled by Hurricane Dora, President Biden declared a 'major disaster' in the state, promising full federal help in coping with the destruction.
The wildfires spread quickly, spurred by high winds and exacerbated by low humidity and dry conditions caused by drought. Thousands were forced to flee from the choking smoke and flames before their homes were enveloped.
Two survivors of the inferno that swallowed the town of Lahaina after Tuesday's fires described their terror to KHON, recalling how they leaped into the ocean to avoid the fatal intensity of the heat.
'It felt like we were in hell, it really was. You couldn’t really see anything, sometimes it was just blacked out by the smoke, but you could still see the flames...It was starting to burn our skin,' the survivor declared.
Family and friends of the missing are scrambling to locate their relatives and friends, taking to social media in a bid to find them and circulating a Google spreadsheet.
Desperate locals faced the heart-breaking task of identifying the dead before the surviving displaced evacuated. Twelve people fleeing the coast were rescued by boats.
Lahaina resident, Dustin Kaleiopu, who evaded the flames by sleeping in a nearby Whole Foods, recalled searching for his extended family, 'with so many people missing.'
'It was like an apocalypse,' one stunned resident reported. 'There was smoke and cinders everywhere and dead bodies floating on the seawall. We've been pulling people out since last night, trying to save people's lives.'
As Communication lines were severed due to the level of destruction, State officials worked to find shelter for the massive numbers of locals and tourists who escaped the inferno, evacuating thousands of tourists to other islands.
Oprah's newly-purchased property in the Maui Mountain region besieged by flames, with the Kula fire tearing through the surrounding area.
As Mauna County spokesperson Mahina Martin reported: 'We have only been in contact with perhaps one hotel because the one hotel, the people in charge of that hotel have satellite phones. That's the only way you can make connection.'
Fires raged all the way up to the shoreline in Lahiana, with riotous clouds of smoke thundering up the shore.
Speaking to NBC News, a resident said of his destroyed home, 'We got to this side of the island midnight last night, with my wife and dog, we slept in a parking lot at Whole Foods. We woke up and got on our phones to pictures of our house down to slab. Nothing but smoke and cinders.'
Fires were also observed burning through neighborhoods and residential areas, with residents warned to evacuate their homes before it was 'too late'.
As Maui County Fire assistant chief Jeff Giesea explained: 'The fire can be a mile or more from your house, but in a minute or two, it can be at your house. Burning airborne materials can light fires a great distance away from the main body of fire.'
Though the death toll initially put at 6, state officials believe that number is much higher.
The devastating aftermath of the Maui firestorm continues to unfold, with hundreds of people still unaccounted for.
As Governor Josh Green declared: 'My heart goes out to the residents of Maui and all those impacted.'