850 Still Missing in Lahaina Wildfires: Mayor Asks for Family Members’ DNA to Identify Victims

Wim De Gent
By Wim De Gent
August 21, 2023US News
850 Still Missing in Lahaina Wildfires: Mayor Asks for Family Members’ DNA to Identify Victims
A Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) agent is seen as search and recovery team members check charred buildings and cars in the aftermath of the Maui wildfires in Lahaina, Hawaii, on Aug. 18, 2023. (Yuki Iwamura/AFP via Getty Images)

In a Monday update in the wake of the Lahaina wildfires, Maui mayor Richard Bissen said 850 people currently remain missing. He also asked family members to submit DNA samples to help identify the deceased.

“There are currently 850 names on the list of missing persons,” mayor Bissen said in a video posted on Facebook.

The mayor said that a centralized list of missing persons had been compiled from reports collected by the American Red Cross, the Honolulu FBI, the Maui Police Department, and the Emergency Management Agency since the deadly wildfires on Aug. 8.

“It is my sad duty to report that 114 individuals have been confirmed deceased,” Mr. Bissen said.

Of those 114, only 27 have been identified so far, and 11 families have been notified of their loss, the mayor added.

Currently, 850 people remain missing, down from 2,000, as the FBI and Maui Police Department were able to locate 1,285 individuals.

The mayor warned that the number of people on the missing-persons list may fluctuate on a daily basis as family members are added to or removed from the list.

To help authorities identify the recovered remains, Mr. Bissen said family members can supply a DNA sample to the local Family Assistance Center.

“It’s really critical for immediate biological family members to visit the family assistance center and donate their DNA swab,” said Julie French of ANDE, a company specialized in rapid DNA analysis.

The DNA samples are collected via a simple Q-tip swab rubbed against the inside of the cheek. “It’s … a reliable process for identifying the unaccounted in a disaster like this,” Ms. French explained.

According to Ms. French, immediate biological family members—parents and full siblings—provide the most accurate samples for comparison.

“It’s really important to have more than one family member come forward. The more family members that we can get, the better comparisons we can do and the faster we can do them,” she added.

Locals can donate their DNA samples at the Family Assistance Center at the Hyatt Regency, 200 Nohea Kai Drive in Ka’anapali, Maui, between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. daily. Family members outside of Maui are asked to contact the FBI at 808 566 4300 to arrange to provide a DNA sample.

Mayor Bissen wants to give the public the opportunity to send in questions by email which he will respond to in a press conference tomorrow, Aug. 22.

“Our lives have changed forever and things will not be the same. What will be the same, is the way we care for each other as we grieve and go through this together,” the mayor concluded.

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