Identifying those killed in the Maui wildfires will be “very difficult” and likely take weeks, Hawaii’s governor said Tuesday as the death toll climbed to 106 and families desperately waiting to hear about lost loved ones were asked to provide DNA swabs.
A genetics team will be coming in to help identify victims, Hawaii Gov. Josh Green told CNN Tuesday, as hundreds of searchers with cadaver dogs continued to comb through the ashes of what used to be homes and business incinerated by the deadliest US wildfire in more than a century.
Identification is challenging because the remains are largely unrecognizable and fingerprints are rarely being found, Green said. So investigators need to develop DNA profiles from the remains and hopefully find matches, including from any DNA provided by relatives of the missing, officials have said.
“We’re asking all of our loved friends and family in the area who have any concern to go get swabbed at the family support center so that we can match people genetically,” the governor said.
Only five of the 106 dead had been identified as of Tuesday afternoon, according to Maui County officials. Two were publicly named, and names of the other three will be announced when their families are notified, the county said.
Family members of missing people had provided 41 DNA samples, trying to see whether their loves ones are among the dead, county officials said.
Meanwhile, the number of people that remain unaccounted for is unclear, authorities say, relating to the fires that started spreading wildly August 8 and especially devastated the historic portions of Lahaina in western Maui.
Authorities had gone through about a third of the search area as of Tuesday; the county put the figure at 32% while the governor said it was 27%. Green told CNN Tuesday he hopes “much of it will be done” by the weekend.
But as the search expands, authorities fear the already grim death toll will only rise.
Many of the human remains found so far had been on a seaside road, Green said. “Now that we go into the houses, we’re not sure what we’ll see. We’re hopeful and praying that it’s not large, large numbers,” he told CNN.
A portable morgue also was brought in to help authorities identify and process remains with X-rays and other equipment, Jonathan Greene, deputy assistant secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services, said Tuesday.
• Some victims are named: Robert Dyckman, 74, and Buddy Jantoc, 79, both of Lahaina, were killed, Maui County officials said Tuesday. Names of other victims have been released by families.
• Key road to open: After days of closures that frustrated residents, the Lahaina bypass will be reopened starting Wednesday, with the overnight hours limited to residents only, the governor said Tuesday.
• Displaced residents in hotel rooms and Airbnbs: “Between donations and hotel rooms and Airbnb, we’ll now be able to house virtually everyone who’s impacted,” Green said Tuesday.
• Unsafe drinking water: Parts of hard-hit of the Lahaina and Upper Kula areas are under a water advisory, with residents told they “should not drink and/or boil water.”
• Firefight continues: The Lahaina fire in western Maui was 85% contained and the Kula fire in upcountry Maui was 60% contained as of Tuesday morning, Maui County officials said.
• Biden promises help: Hawaii will have “every asset they need” for ongoing recovery and rebuilding efforts, the president said Tuesday, even as some on Maui have voiced frustration about a slow pace of aid. Biden, who mourned the loss of life and “generations of native Hawaiian history turned into ruin,” said he intends to visit Maui soon.
• Emergency response under review: Authorities have been facing questions over emergency sirens that weren’t activated as flames spread August 8, and fire hydrants that reportedly ran dry. Hawaii’s attorney general will spearhead a review of decisions that officials made in response to the wildfires, her office has said.
• Lawsuit over power lines: Hawaiian Electric is facing a lawsuit claiming power lines blown over by high winds helped to cause the destructive Lahaina wildfire, though an official cause has not yet been determined.