LAHAINA, Hawaii (AP) — Maui County released the names of 388 people still missing Thursday more than two weeks after the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a century, and officials asked anyone who knows a person on the list to be safe to contact authorities.
The FBI compiled the list of names. The number of confirmed dead after fires on Maui that destroyed the historic seaside community of Lahaina stands at 115, a number the county said is expected to rise.
“We also know that once those names come out, it can and will cause pain for folks whose loved ones are listed,” Police Chief John Pelletier said in a statement. “This is not an easy thing to do, but we want to make sure that we are doing everything we can to make this investigation as complete and thorough as possible.”
Names on the list were deemed validated if officials had a person’s first and last name and a verified contact for the person who reported them missing, officials said.
An additional 1,732 people who had been reported missing have been found safe as of Thursday afternoon, officials said.
On Wednesday, officials said 1,000 to 1,100 names remained on the FBI’s tentative, unconfirmed list of people unaccounted for, but DNA had been collected from only 104 families, a figure far lower than in previous major disasters around the country.
Pelletier said Tuesday that his team faced difficulties in compiling a solid list. In some cases, people provided only partial names, and in other cases names might be duplicated. Hawaii officials had expressed concern that by releasing a list of the missing, they would also be identifying some people who have died.
As of Thursday, officials said they had notified the families of 35 people who had been identified, but the families of an additional 11 identified people had not been located or notified. The eight names released Thursday included a family of four whose remains were found in a burned car near their home: 7-year-old Tony Takafua; his mother, Salote Tone, 39; and his grandparents Faaoso Tone, 70, and Maluifonua Tone, 73.
Dozens of searchers have been combing a 4-mile (6.4-kilometer) stretch of water for signs of anyone who might have perished. Crews are also searching for remains among the ashes of destroyed businesses and multistory residential buildings.
The affected area is about 85 percent cleared, but the search will take weeks to complete, Army Col. David Fielder, deputy commander of the joint task force responding to the wildfires, said in a news conference Friday.
“But the last structures they have to clear are going to be extremely complicated,” Fielder said. “They already started mobilizing some equipment to go in there to remove some of the structures to get to the remains. The very earliest projection (is that) we’re talking weeks — it’s not going to be days — to get through all that.”
Officials said Thursday that more than 725 Department of Defense personnel and 136 Coast Guardsmen were supporting the response.
Maui County sued Hawaiian Electric Co. on Thursday, saying the utility negligently failed to shut off power despite exceptionally high winds and dry conditions. Witness accounts and video indicated that sparks from power lines ignited fires as utility poles snapped in the winds, which were driven by a passing hurricane.
Hawaii Electric said in a statement it is “very disappointed that Maui County chose this litigious path while the investigation is still unfolding.”