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Hawaii trauma surgeon says Maui hospital is "holding up really well" amid wildfires

Evacuations, medical efforts continue in Hawaii
Airports and shelters packed, hospitals "holding up really well" as Hawaii reels from wildfires 08:21

Wildfires burning in Hawaii have killed dozens and forced thousands to evacuate, sending the state's medical professionals into emergency response mode.

Dr. Art Chasen, trauma surgeon and trauma medical director of Maui Health, told CBS News Friday that the hospital is "holding up really well."

"We are part of a network in the state for trauma care and our role is to stabilize and transport patients to the state's only burn center," he said.

On Tuesday night, after wind gusts picked up and the flames spread, Chasen says they had about 40 patients come in. 

"We added two additional trauma surgeons to the trauma surgeon who was on call. The emergency room brought in seven additional nurses, and we ended up admitting and transporting about eight critically burned patients and the rest of them were treated and sent home."

Evacuations and an assessment of the destruction on Maui continue, with more than 1,000 homes and other structures known to be damaged or destroyed, including historic buildings and many businesses in Lahaina.

Aftermath of the wildfires in Lahaina
A view of damage cause by wildfires in Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii, in a photo released August 11, 2023.  Office of the Governor Hawaii Josh Green via REUTERS

The windy conditions and damage to power lines also affected patient transportation.

"A lot of the power lines were down on the highways first, so getting in and out of Lahaina was extremely difficult, and the winds were so high that it made helicopter transport super dangerous — so that did impact the situation and who was able to get from Lahaina to the emergency room," Chasen says, adding that patients have continued to trickle in over the last few days. 

"Now we have a lot of folks from our ambulance service, AMR — they're on the ground out there, and there are plans being made to augment the care out there up until the point the highway opens up again."

In addition to wildfire-related injuries, Chasen says the team was also helping regular trauma patients for things like motorcycle crashes. 

"We're tough and we're able to keep going," he said. "We're not 'business as usual,' but we're able to maintain the pace."

He adds the emergency room also has capacity, meaning anybody that shows up there can be seen. 

"I've actually been contacted by physicians and burn reps from all over the country wanting to help, and I've directed them to (the Straub Burn Unit) for the critically ill patients," he says. "But in terms of what we do, which is resuscitate and transport patients, it's a big team effort. We're just doing our job."

Volunteers attend to evacuees from the West Maui wildfires at a shelter
Volunteers attend to evacuees from the West Maui wildfires at a shelter set up at the Maui War Memorial in Wailuku, Hawaii, August 10, 2023. MARCO GARCIA / REUTERS

The Lahaina blaze is already the state's deadliest natural disaster since a 1960 tsunami that killed 61 people on the Big Island, and the deadliest U.S. wildfire since the 2018 Camp Fire in California, which killed at least 85 people and destroyed the town of Paradise.

"Lahaina, with a few rare exceptions, has been burned down," Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said during a news conference Thursday, after walking the ruins of the town with Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen Jr. "Without a doubt, it feels like a bomb was dropped on Lahaina."

"It's a heartbreaking day," he added. "Without a doubt, what we saw is catastrophic."

-The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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