Setting foot in the charred heart of Lahaina

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Lahaina, Hawaii

As the boat approaches Lahaina, the sun is strong, the waves crest into whitecaps and on the shore, so much is black.

“Puamana is gone!” a crewmember shouts in shock, looking at one of the resort areas on Maui’s western coast that drew tourists to the area and is now wrecked by wildfire.

The ruins stretch as far as the eye can see, 100-foot coconut trees charred all the way up their trunks.

It’s hard to even dock. Ferry boats have burned and sunk, just melted into the ocean to create underwater hazards.

There’s a powerful stench from the pipes, plastic and fiberglass boats that have liquefied into an evil soup now floating in the harbor.

Finally onshore, the quaint, historic and simply charming town of Lahaina is unrecognizable.

Block after block is just ash. Some concrete and stone walls still stand but it’s hard to see what they once contained.

The human-made history of Lahaina is gone.

The two-story Pioneer Inn with its airy wraparound verandas is burned to the ground. First built in 1901, it was the oldest hotel in Hawaii. And it’s completely gone.

Even structures built out over pilings into the Pacific Ocean are reduced to cinders, showing how the flames from wildfires fanned by hurricane winds came not just down to the shore, but engulfed anything they could reach there.

On the roads are burned out shells of cars.

Survivors have told CNN how traffic stood at a standstill as the fire approached, forcing some people to run into the ocean to try to save themselves.

But with an inferno on one side and treacherous waves, spilled diesel and a reef on the other, there are fears that the sea was no safe place.

Burnt-out cars in Lahaina. Residents said they heard of people abandoning their cars to run into the ocean as the fires hit.

Gallery owner Bill Wyland told CNN he escaped on his Harley Davidson motorbike, driving on the sidewalk to get around the cars stuck on the roads.

“Flames were shooting over the top coming at you. I didn’t even want to look behind me because I knew they were behind me,” he said.

He returned to the center of Lahaina to find his gallery gone, artworks incinerated.

Just a few hundred feet away, he finds a shred of hope. The banyan tree that’s been a feature of the town for a century and a half is charred but still stands.

“I’m looking at it now. I’m telling you, it’s going to survive,” he said, standing in the shade of the massive, sprawling tree.

Wyland said there could be a new Lahaina, perhaps better than before, while acknowledging the history of the former capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom is gone.

Eddy Garcia said he hopes people will help, but not try to see the devastation for themselves.

Farmer Eddy Garcia is more focused on the immediate needs, still stunned by what he saw.

“It moved so fast, it happened so fast,” he said of how the fire rampaged.

He told CNN he would open his farmland to house those without homes and urged others to stay away but send any help they could.

“Every single home in Lahaina is gone,” he said. “It’s apocalyptic.”


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