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“It’s not there”: Death toll rises as Hawaiians mourn loss of historic capital

The death toll is rising by the hour as authorities search the Hawaiian island of Maui, centered around the ancient capital of Lahaina. Wildfires continue to scour large sections of the island paradise on Friday but have eased as winds died down.

Shocking images reveal the devastation to the historic town of Lahaina, the onetime capital of the former Kingdom of Hawaii.

“It’s just sort of hard to believe that it’s not there,” Lee Imada, who worked at the Maui News for 39 years, told The Associated Press. The fire is “just going to change everything,” he said. “Everything that I remember the place to be is not there any more.”

While damage was still being assessed, witnesses said several significant sites appeared to have been consumed by the flames.

Richard Olsten, a helicopter pilot with tour operator Air Maui, told The Associated Press news agency he had flown over the area to take stock.

“All the places that are tourist areas, that are Hawaiian history, are gone, and that can’t be replaced,” he said. “You can’t refurbish a building that’s just ashes now. It can’t be rebuilt — it’s gone forever.”

Aerial footage of Lahaina showed the town engulfed in flames. Videos on social media captured smouldering remains downtown, with cars and storefronts melted. Every building has been damaged or destroyed, from the local schools to museums.

It was not immediately clear how all of the 60 historic sites in the Lahaina Historic District fared. The district encompasses more than 6,500 hectares (16,000 acres).

Speaking to The New York Times, Theo Morrison, the executive director of the Lahaina Restoration Foundation, which manages several of the historic sites, said the speed of the encroaching fire made it nearly impossible to take any protective action.

“We had no preparation, no warning, nothing,” Morrison said. She noted that the roof of the Old Lahaina Courthouse, which held a heritage museum with ancient Hawaiian artefacts, appears to have collapsed.

Local media also reported that the Baldwin Home, built in 1834 by Reverend Ephraim Spaulding, has been destroyed. The home was the oldest still standing in Lahaina.

Photos on social media appeared to show the famous Lahaina Banyan Tree, believed to be the largest in the United States, also severely singed.

‘Going to change everything’

Imada found it difficult to comprehend the destruction. “It’s just hard to register, even right now, what the full impact of this is going to be.”

Imada said his ancestral ties to Lahaina go back generations. His mother’s family owned a chain of popular general stores, and his great-uncles ran a location on historic Front Street until it closed about 60 years ago.

Imada recalled walking down Front Street among the tourists as they shopped or ate, looking at the banyan tree and enjoying the beautiful ocean views from the harbour.

In Lahaina, a coastal town framed by volcanic peaks, Kamehameha built a royal residence, known as the Brick Palace, which was one of the first Western-style buildings in the Hawaiian Islands, according to the US National Park Service. Lahainaluna High School became the main site of education for the kingdom’s leaders.

Kamehameha’s successors Prince Liholiho and Prince Kauikeaouli — who ruled as Kamehameha II and Kamehameha III, respectively — resided in Lahaina from 1820 to 1845, when the kingdom’s capital moved to Honululu on the island of Oahu.

The Waine’e Church Cemetery, where several Hawaiian monarchs are buried, remains a sacred site for Native Hawaiians, also known as Kanaka Maoli.

Lahaina “was really the political centre for Hawaii,” Davianna McGregor, a retired professor of ethnic studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, told The Associated Press.

She pointed out that Lahaina played a prominent role in the kingdom’s shift from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy under King Kamehameha III.

After the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1893 by U.S. business interests, and the subsequent annexation of the Hawaiian Islands by the US five years later, Lahaina became one of Hawaii’s largest tourist destinations. T

–Wire services


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