Will Cain gets firsthand look at Hawaii wildfire damage
Will Cain shares the stories of Hawaiian residents who are coming together to help the struggling communities.
Nearly two weeks after wildfires ravaged the Hawaiian island of Maui, authorities are strongly encouraging the relatives of missing people to give DNA samples in efforts to identify human remains discovered in the ashes.
The plea comes after the family assistance center collected DNA from only 104 families while up to 1,100 names remain on the FBI’s tentative list of people unaccounted for following the fires, according to The Associated Press Wednesday morning.
Maui Prosecuting Attorney Andrew Martin, who is running the center, said the number of families providing DNA samples on the island is “a lot lower” than other areas of the U.S. in the aftermath of a major disaster.
Martin and Julie French, who is helping lead identification efforts, said DNA samples will only be used to identify victims of the fire – specifically adding that samples will not be entered into a law enforcement database and people will not be asked about their immigration status or citizenship.
MAUI MAYOR SAYS 850 PEOPLE STILL MISSING AFTER DEADLY WILDFIRES
At least 115 people have been confirmed dead and up to 1,100 are possibly unaccounted for following the wildfires that ravaged the historic Hawaiian town of Lahaina in western Maui on Aug. 10, 2023. (PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP)
In Tuesday’s end-of-day update, the Maui Police Department confirmed 115 people are dead after teams completed the search of all single-story, residential properties in the disaster area. Out of the 115 victims, 43 have been identified, but only 21 families have been located and notified.
Approximately 391 emergency personnel – including 50 canine units – are now searching the commercial and multi-story residential properties.
As the search remains active, state officials have expressed concerns with releasing the names of those marked as missing, stating that the list would ultimately identify people who have died.
“A standard held by all law enforcement and first responders here in Hawaii, out of compassion and courtesy for the families, [is] to withhold the names until the families can be contacted,” the State Joint Information Center told the AP in an email on Tuesday.
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Crosses honoring the 115 people confirmed dead in the Maui wildfires hang on a fence along the Lahaina Bypass in Lahaina, Hawaii. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Maui Police Chief John Pelletier said his team is struggling to come up with a solid list of those missing as the department works with “partial names” and names that might be duplicates, which is in addition to those who could have made it to safety but have not yet checked in with family or officials.
“We want to get a verified list. The 1,100 names right now, we know that there’s a margin of that that some of them have first names only and there’s no contact number back. So there was a, ‘John’s missing,’ and when we try to call back who said that, no one is answering,” Pelletier said. “And so we’re trying to scrub this to make it as accurate as we can.”
The police chief joined in on the plea for DNA samples and also encouraged people to file a police report with as much information as possible on missing loved ones.
“If you feel you’ve got a family member that’s unaccounted for, give the DNA,” he said. “Do the report. Let’s figure this out. A name with no callback doesn’t help anybody.”
Missing people flyers for Lahaina, Hawaii, residents are posted on a bulletin board at King’s Cathedral Maui in Kahului, Hawaii. (Jae C. Hong)
Lahaina resident Roseanna Samartano, 77, was one of those listed as missing after a friend couldn’t get in contact with her through phone calls, texts or emails, according to The AP.
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She was marked safe after an FBI agent spoke with her by phone a few days ago. Though her neighborhood of Kahana did not burn, she had no power, cellphone service or internet in the days following the fires.
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While some unaccounted for people could be in situations similar to Samartano, fire experts told The AP another problem officials face is the possibility that some bodies were cremated in the intense heat, which could rule out identification through DNA tests.
Of the remains tested so far, French said three-quarters of the results have been usable.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.