(NEW YORK) — The search for loved ones on Maui following the devastating wildfires has grown increasingly dire as the community grieves those lost in the blazes.
Between 1,000 and 1,100 individuals remain unaccounted for following the Maui wildfire disaster, as of Aug. 22. It’s a reduction from the roughly 2,500 others who had originally been reported as missing, as people have been reported safe, according to emergency response officials.
Residents and community leaders are bracing for the worst.
Former Lahaina resident Leila Torgerson has been holding out hope that she would find her mother, who was living in Lahaina, after the wildfires ravaged the historic town.
Torgerson hopes the nightmare she is experiencing is “one of communication errors” and not indicative of loss of life, as the weight of her mother’s absence grows heavy.
Officials have asked residents, and the world, to prepare for the impending outcomes of the search.
“We do expect to see a lot more loss of life,” Hawaii Gov. Josh Green told Honolulu ABC affiliate KITV on Tuesday. “It’s going to be tragic.”
So far, more than 110 people have been declared dead, with roughly 44 of the deceased identified.
How much progress have search teams made?
Officials say they have so far searched 100% of single-story, residential properties and are transitioning to searching multi-story residential and commercial properties.
More than 2,000 structures were damaged in the fires, and buildings have collapsed, so officials say equipment has been brought in to help search for victims in the destruction.
Green said the search of the remaining areas will take “at least a week, maybe two.”
Maui Police Chief John Pelletier told reporters that every single structure that’s been damaged by the fire has been or will be searched. He also acknowledged the possibility that not all victims will be counted.
“Two thousand people on 9/11 were not recovered,” he said. “We have an entire town that was destroyed.”
According to Maui officials, the number of people who remain unaccounted for is expected to fluctuate. More people may be reported as missing, and law enforcement may cross people off the list as they are found.
Call for DNA samples to identify victims
Officials are urging family members of those who are unaccounted for to submit DNA tests to link remains to family members via the local testing site, the Family Assistance Center in Kaʻanapali.
The ANDE Corporation, which is leading rapid DNA testing efforts, said the testing is being done right on the island of Maui — and won’t be used for other purposes.
A representative of the company behind the DNA testing said nearly three-quarters of the remains collected so far have generated searchable DNA results.
There have been 104 samples collected as of Aug. 22 from potential victims’ family members.
Those in Maui who are seeking information regarding loved ones are being directed to the Family Assistance Center for more information.
Counselors at the center are interviewing family members of the missing to get information about their loved ones, which includes medical information, dental information, or other identifying information like where they may have lived or stayed. They’ll be given the opportunity for a DNA sample there, as well.
For more details, concerned parties can also call 1-800-RED-CROSS.
Updated lists of people who are unaccounted for
Officials are looking to create an official and public list of those who are unaccounted for.
A team of local volunteers have an unofficial, regularly updated list of such people based on community reporting.
The spreadsheet is not designed for the amount of traffic it’s receiving, volunteers say, so the public is being asked to refrain from viewing unless you’re looking for a specific loved one. The spreadsheet can be found here.
The spreadsheet can be accessed via QR codes found on flyers circulating across the island. Volunteers say some individuals have been marking themselves as “found” after they discover their names on the list once they regain access to cellphone service, electricity and the internet, which had been knocked out amid the wildfires and heavy winds.
“Communications being down has made finding the unaccounted for very challenging,” volunteer Ellie Erickson told ABC News. “At this point, we have just, like, a whole town that is now unhoused and I think communication is hard for everyone. And especially if you already don’t have a phone or the relationships with family are sometimes complicated. All that makes the situation way harder.”
There is also a list specifically tracking people who were homeless or had insecure housing before the wildfires, who are still missing. The spreadsheet can be found here.
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