Hawaii officials urged surviving Maui residents for DNA samples Tuesday as around 1,000 people remain unaccounted for after devastating wildfires ripped through the island two weeks ago.
Maui Prosecuting Attorney Andrew Martin said the number of family members who have come forward and provided DNA samples following the fire is “a lot lower” compared to the response in other parts of the country following a major disaster, the Associated Press reported. Between 1,000 and 1,100 people remain on the FBI’s unconfirmed list of people unaccounted for in Maui, but only 104 families have provided DNA samples to the family assistance center, according to Julie French, who is leading efforts to identify remains on the island through DNA analysis.
“What we want to do — all we want to do — is help people locate and identify their unaccounted-for loved ones,” Martin said.
Martin added that any DNA samples provided to authorities would not be entered into law enforcement databases, and people would not be asked about their immigration status if they came forward with samples. Police Chief John Pelletier said his team is struggling to compile a list of the missing because they are provided with partial names, and in some cases, names are duplicated.
“If you feel you’ve got a family member that’s unaccounted for, give the DNA,” Pelletier said. “Do the report. Let’s figure this out. A name with no callback doesn’t help anybody.”
Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen estimated earlier this week that around 850 people remain missing, but the official number is unclear as authorities face criticism for their lack of details on how many are still missing. Bissen was peppered by reporters on how many children remain missing but came up empty on providing any assurance.
“You have no estimate on how many children are missing?” one reporter asked.
“This is the biggest question that the people of Lahaina have, but you don’t want to answer,” another reporter said.
Bissen then accused the reporters of “ruining” the press conference “for everybody.”
MAUI FIRES — Reporters confront Mayor of Maui about refusing to address reports of missing children
“You’ve been the worst mayor.” pic.twitter.com/TyIUc2Uh16
— The Post Millennial (@TPostMillennial) August 20, 2023
Other Hawaiian authorities also face criticism for their response to the fires that killed 115 people and turned the historic town of Lahaina to ash. Maui Emergency Management Agency Chief Herman Andaya chose not to use the island’s emergency sirens to alert residents to the deadly fire, saying the emergency sirens are usually used for tsunami warnings, which tell Hawaiians to seek higher ground, but that would’ve been toward the fire. Andaya then resigned one day after explaining his decision, citing “health reasons.”
Another government agency, the Hawaii Commission on Water Resource Management, was accused of delaying a request for more water to fight the fire because it first had to consult with local farmers. The agency was formerly led by a “water equity advocate,” who was reassigned to a different division following the fires.
Hawaiian Electric is also under scrutiny for allegedly slow-walking modernization and repairs of its electrical grid as it devoted resources to building out the utility’s green energy network. The state attorney general said it will use a third party to investigate how state and local government agencies responded to the devastating fires.