Hundreds Still Missing Two Weeks After Deadly Wildfire in Maui: FBI Seeks Help in Identifying Remains
Over 1,100 People Still Missing After Devastating Wildfire in Maui
Deadliest Wildfires in a Century
At least 1,100 people are still missing two weeks after a deadly wildfire swept through the Hawaiian island of Maui, authorities said Tuesday. The fires were the deadliest in the United States in a century, claiming at least 115 lives, according to the latest provisional death toll. The FBI is seeking family members’ help in identifying the remains of the dead.
Lahaina City Wiped Off the Map
The tourist city of Lahaina, home to 12,000 people, has been wiped off the map as thousands of missing people appear on lists kept by various organizations, including the police, the Red Cross and shelters. Special Agent Stephen Merrill told reporters Tuesday that the FBI is now working to collect and verify the data.
FBI’s Efforts and Hotline
“We are going through all of the lists so we can determine who is in fact still missing,” Merrill said. He added that as of Tuesday, the FBI had counted 1,100 missing persons, and the number was likely to rise. The FBI set up a dedicated telephone hotline and encouraged relatives of the missing to contact them. “We really need the public’s help,” Merrill said, especially with regard to obtaining additional information to verify details of some of the missing.
Improving Data and DNA Collection
Maui Police Chief John Pelletier said authorities were working to improve the data and hoped to publish a confirmed list of missing persons “in the next few days.” FBI agents have also collected DNA samples from families of missing persons who are unable to travel to Maui, wherever they are in the world. Identification of the unrecognizable bodies lying in the ashes of Lahaina is a daunting task. So far, only 27 of the 115 victims have been identified.
Importance of DNA Samples
Julie French, vice president of ANDE, the company responsible for these operations, said that obtaining DNA from the families of the missing “is a critical step in order to establish the identity” of the victims. “Nearly three-quarters of the remains that have been DNA tested to date have yielded searchable DNA results,” she said. But without DNA from relatives to compare this data, the process is useless. Only 104 DNA samples have been collected from family members of the missing or deceased so far, and the authorities have been keen to dispel any mistrust in the process. “Neither the FBI nor the police maintain DNA files,” said Andrew Martin, the Maui District Attorney. “The sole purpose for which it will be used is to assist in the identification of missing persons.”