Exactly two weeks after aIn the historic Hawaiian city of Lahaina, Maui officials said Tuesday that the number of people missing from the fire continues to fluctuate due to uncertain and incomplete data. At least 115 people died in the blaze, the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a century.
In a news briefing Tuesday afternoon, Steven Merrill, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Honolulu division, said the number of people “listed as missing” is between 1,000 and 1,100.
“Whether it’s someone who just mentioned a first name, ‘Chris is missing’, or someone who gave very extensive and specific information,” Merrill clarified.
This latest estimate comes a day after Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen said the number of people missingaround 850.
“We don’t want to leave anything untouched, so we’re considering everyone on that list until we can prove they’re not on that list,” Merrill said, stressing that the number will change as new information comes in. .
“Maybe there’s a shelter out there somewhere, like a hotel, that hasn’t reported people yet,” he said.
Officials could not confirm thisof the missing are children. Merrill made it known that no one on their missing persons list has a child’s date of birth.
“That doesn’t mean there aren’t minor casualties,” Merrill said. “…All of our lists currently do not include names that reflect the date of birth of anyone who is a child,” Merrill said.
He also noted that so far about 1,400 of the 2,500 people initially reported missing have been found safe.
The FBI has evidence-gathering personnel, forensic science experts and cell phone analysts on-site in Maui assisting with the identification process, Merrill said. Hundreds of search and rescue crews and dozens of cadaver dogs searched the fire area for human remains.
At least 104 DNA reference samples have been collected from people on the island in an effort to “put together pedigrees or pedigrees,” Julie French, senior vice president of DNA analysis company ANDE, told reporters.
“Nearly three-quarters of the remains tested to date have yielded searchable DNA results,” said French.
Maui prosecutor Andy Martin said the DNA analysis was conducted solely by ANDE, not the FBI or other local government agencies, and that the samples collected were used only for victim identification.
On Tuesday night, 43 people were identified, county officials said. Of these, eight names have been publicly released. They ranged in age from 59 to 74 years.
Meanwhile, new questions arose about the extent to which Maui County officials were aware of conditions on the ground on Aug. 8, when the fire broke out in Lahaina. This in response to an interview that mayor Richard Bissen gave to the local channel KITV-TV just after 6 p.m. on August 8.
“I’m happy to report that the road is open to and from Lahaina,” Bissen told KITV at the time.
However, Bissen was seemingly unaware that much of downtown Lahaina was already on fire at the timetrying to flee from the flames that destroyed about 80% of the city.
When asked about the time frame of that particular interview on Tuesday, Bissen responded that “a lot of information came in, we had a lot of communication that got cut off.”
As the fire situation developed, Bissen said, he was briefed through the emergency operations center, with most of the information coming from the fire department.
The mayor disclosed that he “didn’t know…until later” that Maui County police officers had reportedly gone door-to-door in Lahaina at the time of the fire, “making personal pleas… knocking on doors” and using loudspeakers to asking people to evacuate.
“I can’t tell you what contributed to what,” Bissen said.
Last week, the head of the Maui Emergency Management Agency saidafter being roundly criticized for not activating the island’s warning sirens as the Lahaina fire spread.
A day before he stepped down, when asked by reporters if he regretted not activating the sirens, Herman Andaya replied, “I don’t.”
Theremains under investigation. Hawaii Attorney General Anne Lopez also announced last week that she will be bringing in a “third-party private organization” to assess local government agencies’ response to the fires.
The Lahaina fire, one of four wildfires that erupted on the island on August 8, burned about 3.39 square kilometers and also destroyed at least 2,200 structures., of which about 86% was residential. As of Monday it was 90% under control.
The four burna combined estimate of 10 square miles. On Monday, President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden traveled to Maui to explore the disaster area.
— Jonathan Vigliotti and Caitlin O’Kane contributed to this report.