By Jonathan Allen and Brad Brooks
LAHAINA, Hawaii (Reuters) – Officials in Hawaii on Tuesday called on residents to submit DNA samples to help identify human remains found in the ashes of a rapidly advancing wildfire on the island of Maui that killed at least 115 people earlier this month. people perished. .
At the same time, researchers acknowledged that it’s possible that not all of the remains of the victims of the August 8 fire on Maui will ever be found.
Maui County Prosecutor Andrew Martin, charged with running the family assistance center, said he has spoken with experts who have taken DNA samples from mass-casualty disasters elsewhere, and that he sees less readiness in Hawaii.
“The number of family members who come to deliver DNA samples is a lot lower than in other disasters,” he said.
Martin said he couldn’t explain why people seemed less willing to provide DNA samples — 104 had been collected so far. But he hoped his reassurance that the DNA provided would only be used to identify remains, and not be turned over to any law enforcement database or agency, would lead more family members to come forward.
Investigators said at the press conference that there are still between 1,000 and 1,100 names on their list of people missing from the blaze.
But they also said the list was a complicated mess, with some people identified by a single name, others with missing data such as dates of birth, some people whose gender was unclear, and also that there were likely duplicate reports of the same people as the list. is compiled from various sources.
They made no prediction about when—or if—they would ever be able to complete the task of accounting for everyone on the list. They also said they could not yet provide an estimate of the total number of people who would eventually die from the fire.
Maui Police Chief John Pelletier underlined that his department had 85 missing persons reports related to the fire on file so far — asking citizens to report missing family members or others directly to police if possible.
However, the devastation was so bad that Pelletier warned that even after the search for remains was over, “I can’t guarantee… we’ll get everyone.”
The wind-driven wildfires swept through the western Maui beach town of Lahaina, killing at least 115 people, Maui County officials said. Authorities say they have now searched 100% of single-storey homes in the disaster area.
(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in Lahaina, Hawaii, and Brad Brooks in Longmont, Colorado; edited by Michael Perry)