Authorities have reported that more than 1,100 individuals remain unaccounted for, even two weeks after devastating wildfires tore through the Hawaiian island of Maui. The catastrophe, which has claimed at least 115 lives, stands as the most lethal fire incident the United States has experienced in the past century.
FBI Seeks Family Aid in Identifying Wildfire Victims
The aftermath of the wildfires has left the picturesque tourist town of Lahaina, with its population of 12,000, virtually obliterated. A multitude of missing persons have been listed by various organizations such as the police, Red Cross, and shelters.
Special Agent Steven Merrill of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) stated on Tuesday that efforts are underway to compile and validate the available data. “We’re meticulously cross-referencing all the data sets to accurately determine those who are still unaccounted for,” Merrill commented.
The FBI’s current count of missing individuals stands at 1,100 as of Tuesday. However, this number is anticipated to rise. To facilitate the process, the FBI has established a dedicated telephone hotline and is urging relatives of the missing to reach out.
Public Cooperation is Vital, Says FBI
“We are earnestly seeking the assistance of the public,” emphasized Merrill. He highlighted the importance of acquiring additional information to corroborate the details surrounding some of the missing persons. Maui’s police chief, John Pelletier, shared that authorities are meticulously refining the data and aiming to release a verified roster of missing persons “within the coming days.”
Unprecedented Effort to Identify Remains
Notably, the FBI is also taking steps to collect DNA samples from families unable to travel to Maui, regardless of their global locations. The process of identifying the charred remains found in the ruins of Lahaina is a painstaking endeavor.
Of the 115 victims, only 27 have been successfully identified thus far. Julie French, the vice president of ANDE, the company overseeing these operations, stressed the critical role that DNA samples from families play in the identification process. “More than 70% of the examined remains have yielded usable DNA results,” she noted. However, without DNA samples from relatives for comparison, the effort remains futile.
To date, merely 104 DNA samples have been collected from family members of the missing or deceased. Authorities are eager to allay any concerns regarding the process. “The FBI and the police have no intentions of retaining the DNA profiles,” reassured Maui County District Attorney Andrew Martin. “Its sole purpose is aiding in the identification of those unaccounted for.”
(This story is published from a syndicated news agency feed – AFP)