Maui authorities revise wildfire death toll down to 97 amid painstaking work to catalog remains
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow/Gray News) - The official death toll from the Lahaina wildfire disaster has been revised down from 115 to 97 amid new DNA analysis and a painstaking effort to catalog remains, many of which are incomplete and in a very degraded state, Maui police announced Friday.
Of the 97, authorities said 74 people have been officially identified.
Meanwhile, police said the number of unaccounted for stands at 31. Each of those people has a missing persons report filed with the Maui Police Department, said Maui Police Chief John Pelletier.
He added the new accounting helps to paint a clearer picture of what the final death toll will be.
The number of people unaccounted for plus the number of people officially identified equals 105.
“The purpose of this was not to confuse anybody,” Pelletier said, noting that the original list of unaccounted for individuals was in the thousands. “We are constantly striving that we do this to the best of our ability.”
The new official death toll was announced in a news conference Friday afternoon, during which Maui Medical Examiner Dr. Jeremy Stuelpnagel went into detail on the challenges facing the forensic professionals combing through remains in hopes of confirming victims’ identities.
“Many of the people who are coming to our office ... are fragmented. We are also working with some people who have come together,” Stuelpnagel said, adding the work “does take a lot of time.”
“This is a mass disaster,” Stuelpnagel said.
Officials said 50 sets of remains have been returned to family members.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency is assisting with the task of identifying remains and laboratory director John Byrd explained it’s not unusual to have a revised death toll in a disaster.
He said the earlier number was based on estimates, including the number of body bags delivered to the morgue. There were also non-human remains included in the recoveries.
Byrd added, on getting to a final toll, “We’re not there yet.”
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