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'I Ran For My Life': Maui Wildfires Death Toll at 96, Could Soar Much Higher

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At least 96 people died in the flames that swept through the Hawaiian island of Maui, but that death toll could rise substantially as hundreds more remain missing.

Survivors tell of waiting in the ocean for hours as they watched their town burn. 

On Sunday, churches prayed for the victims and their families while relief groups are working to bring help and support to those in need.

"It's been so hard, very hard," Lahaina survivor Ed Gazman said.

So far, only a small portion of destroyed structures have been searched for human remains.

Maui Police Chief John Pelletier said, "We're going as fast as we can. But just so you know, three percent. That's what's been searched with the dogs. Three percent."

L.A. County has sent 12 of their cadaver dogs to help with the search. As many as 1,000 people may still be unaccounted for. 

CLICK HERE to Help Operation Blessing Provide Relief 
Harrowing video taken by survivors showed them standing in the ocean to escape the flames. Some, like Lahaina resident David, barely escaped with their lives.

"I ran out of the car and ran for my life, ran down to the ocean. I was only a quarter mile from the ocean and (his friends) stayed in their car. They died with their dogs and everything. Three of my friends in one car and two dogs died," David said.

Parishioners attend Mass at Sacred Hearts Mission Church in Kapalua, Hawaii, Sunday, Aug. 13, 2023. The church hosted congregants from Maui who lost loved ones in the fire. (AP Photo/Haven Daley)

Hawaii Governor Josh Green says this is the worst natural disaster to ever hit the island, and we've learned that the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency's siren warning system was never activated.

Green said, "I've authorized a comprehensive review of what happened in the early hours of the fire and the hours after. We will find out what we could have done to prevent such loss of life."

Southern California Pastor Greg Laurie has a congregation on Maui and his Harvest ministry has set up a relief fund to provide comfort for the suffering.

CBN's Operation Blessing has arrived in Hawaii and is working with Youth With a Mission to get much-needed supplies to those in need. Julie McLaughlin of YWAM said that included "tarps and ropes and flashlights and ways to secure their few belongings that they have left. Also barbecue grills and cooking things."

Franklin Graham's Samaritan's Purse is also responding with aid.

Churches ministered to the grieving Sunday. Katalina and Taufa Samisoni lost four family members in the fire, but refuse to allow it to shake their faith.

Katalina said, "You just have to look to the Lord and you just trust in Him. His master plan always works the best. He has a purpose for us."

CLICK HERE to Help Operation Blessing Provide Relief 

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About The Author


Since joining CBN News, Dale has reported extensively from Western Europe, as well as China, Russia, and Central and South America. Dale also covered China's opening to capitalism in the early 1990s, as well as the Yugoslav Civil War. CBN News awarded him its Command Performance Award for his reporting from Moscow and Sarajevo. Since 9/11, Dale has reported extensively on various aspects of the global war on terror in the United States and Europe. Follow Dale on Twitter @dalehurd and "like" him at