In Maui, 850 people are still unaccounted for
Updated August 21, 2023 at 11:37 PM ET
MAUI, Hawaii — Some 850 people are still unaccounted for after wildfires destroyed Lahaina and other parts of Maui earlier this month. The news comes as the FBI works withthe Maui Police Department to find possible matches between DNA submitted by loved ones and samples taken from bodies recovered at the scene.
"There is positive news in this number, because when this process began, the missing person list contained over 2,000 names," Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen said via Instagram.
"Through the tireless work of the FBI and the Maui Police Department, over 1,285 individuals have been located safe," he added.
Only 13 families have been notified of a loss so far
The Maui Police Department said Monday that it has identified 35 of the 115 people who are known so far to have perished. Of that number, 13 families have been located and notified, nearly two weeks after wildfires propelled by Hurricane Dora's winds struck Lahaina and other areas.
That was a slight uptick from Sunday, when 27 people had been identified out of 114 confirmed deaths, with 11 families informed.
Parents, siblings, and children of people whose whereabouts are still unknown are being asked to give DNA samples to help identification efforts. While people on Maui can go to a family assistance center to provide a sample, relatives who live on other islands or the continental U.S. can call the FBI at (808) 566-4300 or send an email to HN-COMMAND-POST@ic.fbi.gov for guidance.
"Those who provide DNA samples are assured that the samples will only be used for the purpose of identifying those who are still reported missing," says the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.
The numbers of unaccounted for and dead have fluctuated
The latest tally of unaccounted for people promises to be the most accurate yet. According to Bissen, the 850 figure comes from the FBI, which compiled cases that were reported to the American Red Cross, the FBI's office in Honolulu, the Maui Police Department and emergency management agencies.
"We are both saddened and relieved about these numbers," Bissen said, reflecting the mix of emotions confronting families awaiting word about whether their loved ones managed to survive the fires.
Days after fires devastated Lahaina, Maui County Police Chief John Pelletier estimated that around 1,000 people were unaccounted for — but because of the scope of the devastation, he also cautioned, "honestly we don't know."
When Bissen was asked on Friday about the uncertainty over the fate of people who remain unaccounted for, he said the question relies on where they might have found shelter, in a community where many residents opened their doors to survivors. In the burn zone of Lahaina the mayor said, "Obviously, there's no one left in that area that would be alive." But, he added, people might have found a place to stay who haven't yet reached out to report themselves as safe.
Bissen warns that the latest numbers will likely change repeatedly, as recovery and identification work continues. He also said he will take questions from both the media and the Maui community on Tuesday.
"Our lives have changed forever and things will not be the same," Bissen said. "What will be the same is the way we care for each other as we grieve and go through this together."
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