A mobile morgue unit arrived Tuesday to help Hawaiian officials painstakingly identify the remains as Maui County released the first names of people who died in the wildfire that nearly burned the historic town of Lahaina a week ago came, bringing the death toll to 106.
The county named two victims, Lahaina residents Robert Dyckman, 74, and Buddy Jantoc, 79. add a statement that three more victims have been identified.
These names will be released once the county has identified the next of kin.
The US Department of Health and Human Services dispatched a team of coroners, pathologists and technicians, along with examination tables, X-ray machines and other equipment to identify victims and process remains, said Jonathan Greene, the agency’s deputy assistant secretary for response.
“It’s going to be a very, very difficult mission,” Greene said. “And patience will be incredibly important given the number of casualties.”
The district said in a statement that among the dead were the first so-called people.
A week after a fire devastated historic Lahaina, many survivors began moving into hundreds of hotel rooms set aside for displaced locals, while donations of food, ice, water and other essentials continued to arrive.
Teams using cadaver dogs searched about 32% of the area, the county of Maui said in a statement Tuesday.
The governor asked for patience as authorities were being inundated with requests to visit the burned area.
Maui Police Chief John Pelletier again appealed to families with missing relatives to provide DNA samples.
So far, 41 samples have been submitted, the county statement said, and 13 DNA profiles have been obtained from remains.
The governor warned that numerous more bodies could be found.
The wildfires, some of which have yet to be fully contained, are already the deadliest in the US in more than a century. Its cause has been investigated.
When asked by Hawaii News Now if children were among the missing, Green said Tuesday, “Tragically, yes. … If the bodies are smaller, we know it’s a child.”
He described some of the sites searched as “too much to share or see just from a human perspective.”
Another complicating factor, Green said, is that storms with rain and high winds are forecast for the weekend.
Officials are considering whether or not to “preventively shut down for a short period of time as all infrastructure is weaker at this time.”
A week into the fires, some residents were suffering from disrupted power, unreliable cell phone service and uncertainty about where to get help.
Some people regularly went to a seawall, where telephone connections were strongest, to make calls.
A single-propeller aircraft flew low offshore and broadcast information on where to get water and supplies over a loudspeaker.
Victoria Martocci, who lost her dive shop and a boat, planned to travel from her home in Kahana to her camp in Kahalui on Wednesday to stow documents and keepsakes given to her by a friend whose house burned down. “These are things she grabbed, the only things she could grab, and I want to keep them safe for her,” Martocci said.
The local utility has already been criticized for not shutting off power when high winds swept through a parched area with a high fire risk.
It’s not clear if the utility’s equipment played a role in igniting the flames.
Shelee Kimura, president and CEO of Hawaiian Electric Co. Inc., said many factors play into the power shutdown decision, including the impact on people who rely on specialized medical equipment and concerns that a shutdown may occur in the fire area would have disabled the water pumps.
Green said the flames were spreading in an area at a rate of up to a mile per minute, driven through dry grass and driven by high winds from a passing hurricane.
The fire that ravaged century-old Lahaina last week destroyed nearly every building in the city of 13,000. According to the district, the fire was contained by 85%. Another fire, known as the Upcountry Fire, was 60% contained.
The Lahaina fire caused about $3.2 billion in insured property losses, according to calculations by Karen Clark & Company, a well-known catastrophe and risk modeling firm.
Damage to uninsured property is not included.
The company said more than 2,200 buildings were damaged or destroyed by flames, with about 3,000 damaged by fire, smoke or both.
Even where the flames have died down, authorities have warned that toxic by-products could remain, including in drinking water after the flames put out toxic fumes.
As a result, many were unable to return home.
According to the Red Cross, 575 evacuees were spread across five emergency shelters on Monday. Green said thousands of people would need shelter for at least 36 weeks.
He said Tuesday about 450 hotel rooms and 1,000 Airbnb rentals would be made available.
President Joe Biden said Tuesday that he and First Lady Jill Biden would visit Hawaii “as soon as possible,” but he doesn’t want his presence to disrupt recovery and cleanup efforts.
During a stop in Milwaukee to present his economic agenda, Biden vowed that “any assets they need will be there for them.”
More than 3,000 people have signed up for federal assistance, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and that number is expected to increase.
FEMA provided displaced residents with $700 to cover food, water, first aid and medical expenses, in addition to qualifying coverage for loss of homes and personal property.
The Biden administration requested an additional $12 billion for the government’s disaster relief fund as part of its request to Congress for additional funding.
Green said “leaders across the board” had helped by donating over £1million of food, as well as ice, water, nappies and baby food.
U.S. Marines, the Hawaii National Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Coast Guard have all joined in the relief and recovery efforts.
Lahaina resident Kekoa Lansford helped rescue people as the flames swept across the city. Now he collects stories from survivors and hopes to create a timeline of what happened. He has 170 emails so far.
The scene was haunting. “Terrible, horrible,” Lansford said Tuesday. “Have you ever seen Hell in the movies? That’s what it looked like. Fire everywhere. Dead people.”