MAUI COUNTY, Hawaii – The whereabouts of as many as 1,100 people remained unknown Tuesday after devastating wildfires sparked on Maui earlier this month, killing over 110 people and destroying a swath of historic Lahaina.
Authorities said they were working to combine lists from several different agencies of people who remain unaccounted for. Steven Merrill, FBI special agent in charge of the agency’s Honolulu office, said it will likely take time to compile a definitive list. Some of the unaccounted for have been listed only by first or last name, he said, and officials continue working to collect all the relevant records.
Maui County Police Chief John Pelletier cautioned that crews searching the debris might not find all of the people who were unaccounted for by the time they finish their searches.
“When this is all said and done — realistically, let’s be honest here — we’re going to have a number of confirmed (deaths), we’re going to have a number of presumed (deaths),” he said.
Later, he added, “Please understand this, once the search is done, I can’t guarantee — nor can anyway say — that we’ve got everybody. We’re going to do our darndest to get it right and make every effort to do that.”
Authorities are using fingerprints and rapid DNA testing to identify remains. Officials urged people who are searching for loved ones to submit DNA samples to authorities to help with identification efforts.
As of Tuesday, 115 people had been confirmed dead in the fires. Of those, 43 had been identified, officials said.
According to authorities, 1,400 people who were reported missing in the immediate aftermath of the fires have been found safe. However, officials warned that numbers are likely to fluctuate “for the foreseeable future” as efforts to find those who remain unaccounted for continue.
On Aug. 8, four fires began burning on Maui, fueled by strong winds brought by the passing of Hurricane Dora to the south. The blazes burned through more than 3,400 acres. Three of them — the Olinda, Kula and Lahaina fires — were still burning Tuesday, though they were between 85% and 90% contained. The fourth blaze, the Pulehu/Kihei fire, was declared entirely contained on Aug. 12.
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