Officials in Hawaii are imploring residents to submit DNA samples to help in the identification of human remains found in the ashes of a fast-moving wildfire on the island of Maui that killed at least 115 people earlier this month.
At the same time, investigators acknowledged that it’s possible not all of the remains of victims from the August 8 fire on Maui will ever be found.
Maui County prosecuting attorney Andrew Martin, tasked with heading up the family assistance center, said Tuesday that he’d spoken with experts who have handled DNA sampling in mass-casualty disasters elsewhere, and that he was seeing less willingness in Hawaii.
“The number of family members who are coming in to provide DNA samples is a lot lower than they’ve seen in other disasters,” he said.
Martin said he could not explain why people seemed less willing to provide DNA samples — so far, 104 had been collected. But he hoped his reassurances that the DNA provided would be used only for identifying remains would help more family members come forward.
Investigators said at the news conference that there remained 1,000 to 1,100 names on their running list of people who were unaccounted for from the fire.
But they also said the list was a complex jumble that included some people identified by a single name, others with missing data such as birth dates, and others whose genders were not clear. They also said there were likely duplicate reports of some people, because the list was compiled from varied sources.
They gave no forecast of when or whether they might finish accounting for everybody on the list. They also said they could not yet estimate what the final fatality toll of the fire would be.
Maui Police Chief John Pelletier underscored that so far his department had 85 missing-persons reports related to the fire on file, and he asked residents to report any missing family members or others directly to the police if possible.
The devastation was so bad, though, that Pelletier warned that even after all the searching for remains was over, “I can’t guarantee … that we got everybody.”
The wildfires whipped by winds tore through the beachside town of Lahaina in west Maui, killing at least 115 people, according to Maui County officials. Authorities said they have searched 100% of the single-story residential properties in the disaster area.