Tongan family killed as Maui fires death toll rises to at least 55

Reports say a Tongan family is among 55 residents killed by the fast-moving wildfires on Hawaii’s Maui island.

L-R: Daughter Sālote and her son, Fa’aoso and Tone were killed in the fire. Photo/Supplied

The deadly wildfires prompted a county-wide state of emergency, and several brush fires have also caused evacuations on Hawai’i Island, 1News reported.

US President Joe Biden declared a major disaster in the state of Hawaii, meaning the federal government will provide funding to assist state and local recovery efforts, the BBC reported.

The United States based CBS News said: “One blaze, which nearly destroyed the historic town of Lahaina, was said to be 80% contained earlier in the day”.

The news outlet quoted officials as warning that the death toll will likely continue to go up after it was first reported on Thursday (Hawaii time).

Reports said this was “likely the largest natural disaster in Hawaii state history.”

Officials were unable to provide an estimate on the number of people missing. 

Hawaii is no stranger to wildfires, but those of the past few days are being called some of the worst in the archipelago’s history.

The latest toll has been devastating, though what sparked the deadly fires is still under investigation.

Meanwhile, the Tongan victims’ kāinga posted on their Facebook accounts, informing members of the public about the tragedy.

Tonga Tei alleged that the fire had claimed the lives of a couple Tone and Fa’aoso as well as their daughter Sālote and a son of Sālote.

“Neongo koe taa kuo o’o kihomau ki’i famili masiva ka koe fkkoloa ia ki Hevani”, Tei said, which translates into English as “although this was a tragedy to our poor family it is Heaven’s gifts”.

Tei’s tribute suggested the couple is survived by some of their children.

“Ofa atu ki he fānau paea”, he said in Tongan of the children.

“The news is truly heart-breaking and pitiful”, a commenter wrote in Tongan.

One commenter alleged the victims were found dead in a vehicle.

“This is the saddest and heartbreaking news. May they all rest in peace in god’s hands…lots of love to the Tone and Takafua families we pray that our Heavenly Father to comfort and give guidance at this hardest time lots of love to you brothers Tonga and Fasi and the rest of the family”, another commenter wrote.

Hawaii has the largest percentage or second highest, after Utah, of Tongan Americans, with 8,496 people of Tongan descent. There are 1,000 Tongans in Honolulu.

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