Following the most devastating U.S. wildfire in over a century, authorities in Hawaii are urging families of the missing to provide DNA samples to assist in identification efforts. Currently, between 1,000 and 1,100 names linger on the FBI’s preliminary list of people unaccounted for after fires ravaged the historic Lahaina community on Maui. However, only 104 families have given DNA to the family assistance center, says Julie French, spearheading the DNA analysis.
Maui Prosecuting Attorney, Andrew Martin, highlighted the inexplicably low turnout compared to other significant disasters in the U.S. Both Martin and French have assured the public that the collected DNA samples will solely aid in identifying fire victims, without any misuse in law enforcement databases. Immigration status and citizenship will not be a matter of concern during the process.
Two weeks post the Lahaina disaster, authorities grapple with distinguishing between those yet to be accounted for and those who’ve reached safety but remain unreported. A similar situation occurred in 2018 in Paradise, California, where a published list of the missing assisted in identifying many who had safely evacuated.
Releasing names of the missing raises ethical concerns for Hawaiian officials, as it could inadvertently disclose the identities of the deceased. They maintain their compassionate stance of withholding names until family contact.
Maui police confirmed 115 casualties as of Monday. While single-story properties have been combed through, multi-story residential and commercial properties remain on the search agenda.
Police Chief John Pelletier mentioned challenges in establishing an accurate list of the missing, citing issues like incomplete name entries and potential duplications. Emphasizing transparency, he encouraged the public to offer DNA and detailed police reports for unaccounted relatives.
Several individuals had unexpected inclusions in the missing list, like Roseanna Samartano, a Lahaina resident, who was unaware she was being sought until contacted by the FBI. She was unreachable due to post-fire communication disruptions in her unaffected neighborhood of Kahana.
Amid the devastation, families, like Clifford Abihai searching for his 98-year-old grandmother, face agonizing uncertainties about their loved ones’ whereabouts or fates.
Identification can be challenging, as intense heat might have fully cremated some victims, leaving no remains. So far, 75% of tested remains have provided viable DNA results.
Reflecting on the current situation, James Giaccone recalls the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, wherein almost 1,100 of the approximately 3,000 victims still remain unidentified. As the years have passed, he has shifted his focus from the desperation for physical remains to cherishing memories of his loved ones.