Authorities Struggling to ID Victims of Hawaii Wildfires

Hiroto Sekiguchi / The Yomiuri Shimbun
Residents put flowers on crosses to mourn victims of the devastating wildfires on Maui in Hawaii on Monday.

LAHAINA, Hawaii — U.S. authorities are struggling to identify the charred remains of wildfire victims on Maui in Hawaii, as rescue efforts continue on the fire-ravaged island.

With more than 1,000 people missing, the federal government has dispatched about 450 personnel to support search and rescue efforts. The Pentagon sent about 600 personnel to support firefighting activities and help distribute fuel to residents.

Hawaii Gov. Josh Green told CBS News on Sunday that about 1,050 people were unaccounted for. According to Green, search activities have ended in 85% of afflicted areas, but it will take several weeks to complete activities in the remaining 15%, which includes areas with large buildings.

The Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team (DMORT), which includes medical examiners, coroners and fingerprint specialists, is supporting efforts to identify the dead.

DMORT was deployed following the terrorist attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, which claimed 2,977 lives, including 24 Japanese citizens.

Two weeks have passed since wildfires erupted on the island. According to local authorities, the bodies of 114 victims had been confirmed but only 27 have been identified. Authorities have informed the families of 11 victims.

Many displaced residents have been staying at hotels organized by authorities. One such person, Elaine Goode, said she plans to look for the ashes of her deceased husband when she is allowed to return to her property. Before her husband died in 2021, he told his wife that he wanted his ashes to be in the same place as hers when she dies. The thought of not being able to find his ashes brought 81-year-old Goode to tears.

Local authorities are urging residents to remain on alert for landslides and flash floods in the event of heavy rain, due to the loss of trees in the wildfires.