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Maui officials release 388 names of people unaccounted for in Maui fire

A poster seeking help finding a man not seen after the Lahaina fire is taped to a store window. The official figure of people listed as "not accounted for" has changed drastically this week.
Bill Chappell/NPR
A poster seeking help finding a man not seen after the Lahaina fire is taped to a store window. The official figure of people listed as "not accounted for" has changed drastically this week.

Updated August 26, 2023 at 12:48 AM ET

MAUI, Hawaii — A "validated list" of people who are unaccounted for after the Aug. 8 wildfire in Lahaina has 388 names on it and is poised to drop further, according to Maui County officials, adding that the FBI compiled the new list.

Within 24 hours of the list being released, many members of the public had reached out to provide more information on those named said FBI Special Agent in Charge Steven Merrill.

"We got at least 100 people that notified us that that certain person shouldn't be on the list," Merrill said at a Friday news conference providing updates on the process. Maui Police Chief John Pelletier said it would take time to revise the validated list because they wanted to make sure the information they were getting was accurate.

The new figures stand in sharp contrast to the at least 1,000 people who were deemed "unaccounted for" earlier this week. Merrill says the smaller figure is a "subset" of the main list, and that officials "will not rest" until they know the status of each of the people on that larger list.

A basic criteria was used to 'validate' names on the list

Maui Police Chief John Pelletier said the "validated list" reflects a simple criteria: people who were reported by their first and last name, as well as a verified contact number for the person who originated the report.

Beyond those requirements, the county did not initially explain the discrepancy between the much larger list and the new list, both of which, it has said, were the product of FBI analysis.

"We're releasing this list of names today because we know that it will help with the investigation," Pelletier said, even as he acknowledged that publishing the names would likely cause distress.

"We also know that once those names come out, it can and will cause pain for folks whose loved ones are listed," he said. "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."

Some of the names on the list have previously been published, appearing in an online spreadsheet that grew out of the Maui community's grassroots effort to locate loved ones. But in some cases, the names do not overlap.

As it released the validated list, the county said 1,732 people who have been reported as unaccounted for at some point during the disaster have since been found safe and well.

The drive to "un-duplicate people"

The revised number emerged late Thursday after Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said the FBI was working to "un-duplicate people" who were reported missing. By checking formal names and taking other steps, Green predicted, the number would "decrease very significantly."

It's the third big fluctuation in the number of people whose whereabouts are uncertain. This week started with Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen saying the number had fallen to 850. But soon afterward, FBI Special Agent in Charge Steven Merrill said the unaccounted-for list had "between 1,000 and 1,100" names on it.

Merrill said the effort was complicated by two main factors: the lack of detail in some reports and a wide variety of lists of unaccounted-for people, ranging from government agencies to logs kept by shelters.

The death toll did not budge

While the number of unaccounted-for people has shifted, another number has held steady for much of this week: 115, the death toll in the tragedy that makes these fires the deadliest in the past 100 years in the United States.

As of Thursday, the remains of 46 people had been identified, according to the Maui Police Department. Families have been located and notified of their loss in 35 of those cases.

Officials have repeatedly urged parents, siblings and children of people whose whereabouts are unknown to give DNA samples to help analysts identify remains that have been recovered.

To provide a DNA sample from an oral swab, people on Maui can go to the family assistance center, in a ballroom at the Hyatt Regency in Kaanapali. Relatives who live on other islands or the continental U.S. can call the FBI at (808) 566-4300 or send an email to HN-COMMAND-POST@ic.fbi.gov for guidance about providing a sample.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.