Law enforcement officials in Maui are racing to locate more than 1,000 people who are reported as missing, two weeks after the catastrophic wildfires began that destroyed the town of Lahaina.
The number of people unaccounted for is fluctuating daily as new reports of missing persons are filed and others are located, said Special Agent in Charge Steven Merrill with the Federal Bureau of Investigation during a press conference late Tuesday.
Maui County officials previously said 850 people were missing on Sunday. At least 115 people were confirmed dead in the fires as of Tuesday.
Maui Police Chief John Pelletier said Tuesday that law enforcement plans to release a verified list of people who are unaccounted for in the coming days.
The FBI is helping the Maui Police Department go through multiple lists of missing persons from different agencies to determine who is truly unaccounted for. Law enforcement has located 1,400 people so far out of an initial number of 2,500 people reported missing, Merrill said.
Merrill called on people who have filed missing person reports to provide the most up-to-date and accurate information to the FBI by calling 808-566-4300 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Search teams have gone through 100% of the single-story homes in Lahaina and are now combing multistory residential and commercial buildings in the disaster zone, according to Maui County officials.
Pelletier said he cannot guarantee that the remains of every person who died in the blazes will be recovered. He compared the search through the ruins of Lahaina to the recovery operation at ground zero in New York City after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.
“2,000 people on 9/11 were not recovered. We don’t have that type of devastation with the towers like we saw there, but we have an entire town that is destroyed,” Pelletier said.
“Realistically, let’s be honest here, we are going to have a number of confirmed, we are going to have a number of presumed,” Pelletier said. “I do not have that number now. We are going to work diligently to get that. It may take a while.”
Maui County officials are calling on families who have missing loved ones to provide DNA samples that are used to help identify the remains that have been recovered from the disaster zone so far.
Nearly three-quarters of the remains tested have generated searchable DNA results, said Julie French, an executive at ANDE, the company that is running the rapid tests in Maui.
Maui officials emphasized that the DNA samples taken from cheek swabs are only being used to identify those who perished in the blazes and are not being entered into any databases used for other purposes.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect that it’s been two weeks since the wildfire began that destroyed Lahaina. A previous version of this story misstated the length of time since the blaze started.