The number of people on the official list of those missing from the Maui wildfire stood at 385 on Friday, nearly unchanged.
In a news release, the Maui Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation said 245 people on the list of 388 made public the previous week were located and removed. However, a nearly equal number of new names were added.
The updated total was a startling departure from what had been expected — a day earlier Gov. Josh Green said he believed the number would fall below 100.
“We think the number has dropped down into the double digits, so thank God,” Green said in a video posted to social media.
After Maui police released the updated list, the governor said the numbers of fatalities and missing are often in flux in mass casualty events until investigations are completed.
“Exact numbers are going to take time, perhaps a long time, to become finalized,” Green said in a statement provided through a spokesperson.
He said there are less than 50 “active missing person cases.” He didn’t elaborate but indicated those are the people for whom more information was provided than the minimum to be on the missing list compiled by the FBI. It only requires a first and last name provided by a person with a verified contact number.
Authorities have said at least 115 people diedthat swept through Lahaina, the deadliest wildfire in the U.S. in more than a century. So far, the names of 50 people have been publicly released and five others have been identified but their identities withheld because next of kin haven’t been reached. The rest have yet to be identified.
The flames turned the picturesque seaside town into rubble in a few short hours on Aug. 8. Wind gusts topping 60 mph ripped through the town, causing the flames to spread exceptionally quickly.
Lahaina has deep significance in Hawaiian history as the one-time capital of former Hawaiian kingdom and as the home to high-ranking chiefs for centuries. In recent decades, the town became popular with tourists, who ate at its oceanfront restaurants and marveled at a majestic 150-year-old banyan tree.
Half the town’s 12,000 residents are now living in hotels and short-term vacation rentals. The Environmental Protection Agency is leading an effort to clean hazardous waste left in a burn zone stretching across some 5 square miles.
Reconstruction is expected to take years and cost billions.
Initially more than 1,000 people were believed unaccounted for based on family, friends or acquaintances reporting them as missing. Officials narrowed that list down to 388 names who were credibly considered missing and released the names to the public last week.
New names on Friday’s updated list were added from the Red Cross, shelters and interested parties who contacted the FBI, Maui Police Chief John Pelletier said. He urged family members of the missing to submit their genetic data to help identify their relatives.
“If you have a loved one that you know is missing and you are a family member, it’s imperative that you get a DNA sample,” Pelletier said in a video posted to Instagram.
The cause of the fire hasn’t been determined, but it’s possible powerlines from downed utility poles ignited the blaze. Maui CountyHawaiian Electric, the electrical utility for the island.
The utility acknowledged its power lines started a wildfire early on Aug. 8 but faulted county firefighters for declaring the blaze contained and leaving the scene, only to have a second wildfire break out nearby.
Local government officialsfor their response both before, during and after the Lahaina fire, one of several which sparked on Maui on Aug. 8.
Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen has been vague as to his actions as the Lahaina fire was spreading. In an interview Bissen gave to local station KITV-TV, just after 6 p.m. on Aug. 8, he said, “I’m happy to report the road is open to and from Lahaina.”
However, Bissen was seemingly unaware that, at that point, much of downtown Lahaina was already ablaze. And while it was Bissen’s job to ask the state for emergency backup, the mayor told reporters this week he did not call the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.
“I can’t speak to what — or whose responsibility it was to communicate directly,” Bissen told CBS News this week. “I can’t say who was responsible for communicating with General Hara.”
Major General Kenneth Hara, the director of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, said in a recent interview with Hawaii News Now that he was initially unaware of crucial details about the fire.
“I thought everyone had gotten out safely,” he said. “It wasn’t until probably the next day I started hearing about fatalities.”
Amid calls for his resignation, Bissen released a video statement Thursday in which he said:
“I want to be clear and repeat, that I have been present in our emergency operations center, since Aug. 7,” adding he did “become aware of fatalities” until Aug. 9.
“My first thoughts are, we should really get to all of the facts, whatever they may be, good or bad, that is a deeply personal discussion for any mayor and his or her constituents to have,” Green told CBS News in an interview Friday when asked whether Bissen should resign.
On Aug. 17, a little over a week after the fire broke out, Herman Andayafrom his post as chief of the Maui Emergency Management Agency, just one day after he publicly defended his controversial decision not to activate the island’s warning sirens when the Lahaina fire was spreading.
Andaya argued that sounding the sirens could have created confusion by sending Lahaina residents into the path of the blaze because they may have thought the sirens were signaling a tsunami, not a wildfire.
“The public is trained to seek higher ground in the event that the sirens are sounded,” Andaya told reporters on Aug. 16.
“Had we sounded the sirens that night, we were afraid that people would have gone mauka (mountainside), and if that was the case, they would have gone into the fire,” he added.
Andaya has since been replaced by Darryl Oliveira, a former Hawaii Fire Department chief who also served as the head of the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency.
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