LAHAINA, Hawaii (AP) — Authorities in Hawaii appealed Tuesday to the relatives of the missing. Deadliest US wildfire For more than a century to come forward and provide DNA samples, said the low numbers provided so far threaten to hamper efforts to identify any remains discovered in the ashes.
About 1,000 to 1,100 people remain on the FBI’s tentative, unverified list of people who have been ravaged by wildfires in the historic seaside community of Lahaina, Maui. But the Family Support Center has collected DNA from only 104 families so far, said Julie French, who is helping lead efforts to identify remains through DNA analysis.
Maui Prosecuting Attorney Andrew Martin, who runs the center, said the number of family members providing DNA samples is “far lower” than in other major disasters in the country, though it wasn’t immediately clear why.
“This is our concern, that’s why I’m here today, that’s why I’m asking for this help,” he said.
Martin and French wanted to reassure people that any samples would only be used to help identify victims of the fire and would not be entered into any law enforcement databases or used for any other purpose. People will not be asked about them Immigration status or citizenshipThey said.
“What we want to do — all we want to do — is help people find and locate their loved ones,” Martin said.
Two weeks after flames tore through Lahaina, officials are facing huge challenges in determining how many people died and how many made it to safety but didn’t check in.
Something similar happened in 2018 after a wildfire that killed 85 people and destroyed the city of Paradise, California. Authorities in Butte County, home of Heaven, eventually published a list of the missing in local newspapers, A decision that has helped identify many people Those who made it out alive were listed as missing. The list dropped to 1,300 within a month Only a dozen.
Hawaii officials have expressed concern that by releasing a list of missing persons, they may also identify some of the dead. In an email Tuesday, the state Joint Information Center called it “a standard held by all law enforcement and first responders in Hawaii, out of compassion and courtesy to the family, to withhold names until the families are contacted.”
Maui police said 115 people had been confirmed dead as of Monday. All single-story, residential properties in the disaster area have been searched and teams are moving to search multi-story residential and commercial properties, Maui County officials said in an update late Monday.
Police Chief John Pelletier said Tuesday that his team is having trouble coming up with a solid list of the missing. In some cases people provide only partial names, and in other cases names may be duplicated. “There were no secrets, no secrets,” he added.
“We want to have a verified list. 1,100 names right now, we know there is a margin that some of them have only first names and no contact numbers. So there was one, ‘John is missing’ and when we tried to call back who said, no one was answering,” he said. “And so we’re trying to scrub it to make it as accurate as possible.”
Pelletier urged people to provide DNA and file a police report with as much information as possible if their relatives are unaccounted for.
“If you think you have a family member who is unaccounted for, give DNA,” he said. “Report. Let’s figure it out. A name without a callback doesn’t help anyone.”
The person on the list was Lahaina resident Rosanna Samartano, who didn’t know anyone was looking for her until an FBI agent called her a few days ago.
“I was devastated. Why is the FBI calling me? But then he came right out with it, and then I calmed down a little bit.”
It turned out that a friend had reported her missing because she was unreachable despite calls, texts and emails. Her Kahana neighborhood — which did not burn — had no electricity, cellphone service or Internet in the days following the fire.
Clifford Abihai came to Maui from California after getting no answer on the phone about his grandmother, Louise Abihai, 98. As he despaired on the soil of Maui.
“I just want confirmation,” he said last week. “Not knowing what happened, not knowing if he ran away, not knowing if he’s not there. That’s the hard thing.”
As of Tuesday, he said, he still hadn’t learned anything. He gave a DNA sample, he said.
Abihai’s grandmother lived at Hale Mahaolu Iono, a senior living facility where another member of his extended family, Virginia Dofa, lived. Authorities have identified Dofa as the victim. Abihai Dofa and Lewis describe Abihai as best friends.
He said his grandmother was mobile and could walk a mile a day, but it was often difficult to reach her because she often turned off her cellphone to save battery power.
It can be difficult to ascertain whether those who are unaccounted for are dead. Fire experts say it’s possible some of the bodies were cremated by the intense heat, perhaps leaving no bones to identify through DNA testing. Three-quarters of the remains tested for DNA so far have yielded usable results, French said.
Those who lived through other tragedies and never learned the fate of their loved ones are also following the news and grieving for the victims and their families. Nearly 22 years later, for example, about 1,100 victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which killed nearly 3,000, remain unaccounted for.
Joseph Giaccone’s family was initially desperate for any physical trace of the 43-year-old finance executive who worked in the North Tower of the World Trade Center, brother James Giaccone recalled. But over time, he began to focus instead on the memories of the thriving man his brother was.
If his remains are identified and given to the family now, “it will only reinforce the horror that his person endured that day and it will open wounds that I don’t want to open,” Giaccone said Monday when he visited. 9/11 Memorial in New York.
Johnson reported from Seattle, and Kelleher reported from Honolulu. Associated Press writers Jennifer Peltz in New York, Jenny Harr in San Francisco and Becky Bohrer in Juneau, Alaska, contributed.