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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

As search for Maui victims goes on, names of dead are slow to emerge


The remains of a neighborhood destroyed by wildfires in Lahaina on Wednesday.

By Jacey Fortin


It has been more than a week since Maui was ravaged by deadly wildfires.


The search for victims presses on, the number who perished continues to rise, and the names of the dead are slowly emerging.


On Wednesday, three more names were released, bringing to five the number of victims who have been publicly identified by officials.


Confirmed deaths: 111


The deadly blaze in Lahaina started as brush fires and exploded into the town on Aug. 8, becoming one of the country’s deadliest wildfires in more than 100 years.


Locating remains and identifying victims has been a difficult process, and experts in examining human remains have been dispatched to Maui to help local authorities.


“Our hearts are broken as we see lost loved ones,” Gov. Josh Green of Hawaii said in a Wednesday video address on social media.


Unaccounted for: more than 1,000 people


People who are unaccounted for are not necessarily dead. In past deadly wildfires across the United States, the number of people who were initially unaccounted for has vastly outnumbered the final death toll.


Five of the dead have been publicly identified.


The names of three victims were released Wednesday:

Melva Benjamin, 71; Virginia Dofa, 90; Alfredo Galinato, 79


The names of two others were made public Tuesday:

Buddy Jantoc, 79; Robert Dyckman, 74


The search is far from over.


The burn zone is large, and the search for remains has been slow and painstaking. As of Wednesday afternoon, 38% of the area had been searched. Officials have said that by the end of this week, they aim to have covered up to 90%.


Emergency responders, with help from anthropologists and cadaver dogs, must sift through a wasteland of ash and debris to find human remains. Then comes the work of identifying the bodies using fingerprints or DNA, and finding the victims’ families to deliver the news. The process is likely to continue for weeks and perhaps months.


“We’ve got one chance to do this right,” Chief John Pelletier of the Maui Police Department said at a news conference Wednesday, “and I’m not going to rush it.”


Neighbors are pitching in with recovery efforts.


In Lahaina, once the royal capital of Hawaii, more than 2,200 structures were damaged, most of which were residential. More than 2,000 acres burned, according to the Pacific Disaster Center, a research center managed by the University of Hawaii.


Just outside the center of damage, the buildings stayed intact, but the electricity, water and internet service were out. Residents and evacuees in the area were left to rely heavily on help from people on other parts of the island, who ferried whatever supplies they could on cars, trucks and boats.


About 2,000 customers were still without power as of Wednesday afternoon, Green said.

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