Only a fraction of the dozens of bodies recovered among deceased Maui wildfire victims have been identified, officials in Hawaii said this weekend.
The death toll for the blaze that devastated the historic town of Lahaina rose to at least 93 victims — a grim number that could spike dramatically as hundreds of people are still feared to be missing while searches continue with the help of cadaver dogs.
As of press time, authorities said only two deceased victims had been identified so far. The process has been complicated by a harrowing scene in which remains “fall apart” when they are picked up, Maui Police Chief John Pelletier explained during a press conference.
Cadaver dogs sift through the ruins of Lahaina as the death toll continues to rise, making the Maui wildfires in Hawaii the deadliest the US has seen in more than a century https://t.co/3LXfq8eqmx pic.twitter.com/T4GQ0PvUOr
— Reuters (@Reuters) August 13, 2023
“When we find our family and our friends, the remains that we’re finding is through a fire that melted metal,” Pelletier said. “We have to do rapid DNA to identify them.”
Although the names of the two identified victims have not yet been officially disclosed by authorities, the names of a local family of four who were found dead in a burned-out car were reported by Hawaii News Now.
“On behalf of our family, we bid aloha to our beloved parents, Faaso and Malui Fonua Tone, as well as our dear sister Salote Takafua and her son, Tony Takafua,” their extended family said in a statement. “The magnitude of our grief is indescribable, and their memories will forever remain etched in our hearts.”
Multiple blazes were reported across the Hawaiian island of Maui in recent days, but fatalities and mass destruction have only been attributed to the wildfire that swept through Lahaina on Tuesday, according to the Associated Press. The report said the cause of the fires is under investigation, but noted that they sparked during a dry summer and amid strong winds from a passing hurricane.
As divulged by Bloomberg, a group of lawyers suspect power lines might have ignited the fires, but the main supplier of energy Hawaiian Electric has so far stressed it did not have information on a cause as access to impacted area is “limited for safety and emergency response concerns.”
One issue in particular that has garnered headlines is how warning sirens on the island never sounded off as power and cell service cut out for many, prompting a review led by Hawaii Attorney General Anne Lopez into the emergency response.
Hundreds if not thousands of people displaced by the disaster have led to an effort to find housing for those who survived. President Joe Biden approved a disaster declaration last week to unlock federal resources to assist with the recovery efforts.
Officials have estimated that thousands of structures were damaged or destroyed, resulting in billions of dollars in losses.
“This is the largest natural disaster we’ve ever experienced,” said Hawaii Governor Josh Green. “It’s going to also be a natural disaster that’s going to take an incredible amount of time to recover from.”
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