Oprah Winfrey and her camera crew turned away from shelter for Hawaii wildfires survivors


Oprah Winfrey has been turned away from a shelter for survivors of the Hawaii wildfires – as the official death toll topped 90 on Sunday.

The TV personality, who has spent recent days helping with aid efforts during a visit to the state, was accompanied by a CBS news crew when she was denied entry to the War Memorial Complex in Wailuku, local media said.

Officials said that while they appreciated Oprah’s work, “out of respect for those who have come to seek safety and shelter at emergency shelters, our policy remains that no media are given access”.

They added: “We appreciate her understanding of our policy of no camera crews or reporters in our emergency shelters.”

The star has been pictured this week on social media visiting at least one shelter, helping to hand out supplies and giving comfort to victims.

It came as the death toll from the disaster rose to 93 on Sunday, making it the deadliest wildfire the US has seen in the past century, surpassing the 85 who died in California’s Camp Fire in 2018.

Governor Josh Green told reporters it had been “an impossible day” but that fire crews and police had been “extraordinary”.

He said it was the largest natural disaster the US state had ever faced.

The new death toll comes as workers use axes and dogs to search through charred remains of properties on Lahaina on the island of Maui.

Ruined homes are being marked with an orange X for an initial search and HR if human remains have been found.

Authorities are urging people with missing family members to give DNA samples to help authorities identify victims.

Emergency workers are searching through the ruins of Lahaina on the island of Maui
Emergency workers are searching through the ruins of Lahaina

Maui police chief John Pelletier became emotional when he told reporters the fire had melted metal, making remains extremely hard to identify.

“We know we’ve got to go quick [to identify victims] but we’ve got to do it right,” he said.

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All victims are ‘Jane and John Does’

He also conceded the number of victims would inevitably rise again as “none of us really know the size of it yet”.

Lahaina was worst hit by Tuesday’s fires and now resembles a war zone, with more than 1,000 buildings burned to the ground.

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‘Cars exploded like in a warzone’

Survivors have spoken about how quick the blaze spread – the situation made worse by high winds and parched ground – and say emergency sirens failed to give any warning.

Mobile phone alerts were also hampered by power and signal outages.

Some people were forced to jump in the sea and wait for rescue as cars exploded around them and escape routes were blocked.

It will cost billions to rebuild the town
It will cost billions to rebuild the resort town

The five deadliest wildfires in US history

1871: Peshtigo, Wisconsin – 1,152

1918: Cloquet, Minnesota – 453

1894: Hinckley, Minnesota – 418

1881: Thumb, Michigan – 282

2023: Maui, Hawaii – 93 (final toll yet to be confirmed)

Source: National Fire Protection Association

Geoff Bogar described how he and his friend, Franklin Trejos, had tried to help others before being forced to flee in their own cars as the flames approached.

His friend was unable to escape.

Mr Bogar said he found his remains on the back seat of his car the next day – lying on top of his golden retriever that he was trying to protect.

“God took a really good man,” he said.

Read more:
‘Everything we know is gone’ – on the ground in devastated town

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Lahaina neighbourhoods burned to the ground

Residents have been warned that Lahaina is a “hazardous area” and there could be dangerous fumes and contaminated water.

The town is a no-go zone for the time being, with many people whose properties have been destroyed taking refuge in shelters.

At least two other fires are still burning on Maui but no fatalities have been reported so far.

More than 150 died in a tsunami in Hawaii in 1946, but this week’s disaster could surpass that given authorities’ grim prediction of more bodies.

In terms of the worst US wildfires, hundreds were killed in Minnesota in 1918 when a fire tore through rural communities.

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