Lack of DNA samples hinders effort to identify Maui wildfire victims as over 1,000 remain missing

Lack of DNA samples hinders effort to identify Maui wildfire victims as over 1,000 remain missing

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More than 1,000 people remain unaccounted for more than two weeks after devastating wildfires ripped through Maui, officials said. Urgent efforts to identify the remains of those discovered in the ashes have prompted emergency leaders to call on families for DNA samples to aid in the identification process.

As of Wednesday morning, only 104 families had submitted DNA samples, limiting the process.

“The number of family members who are coming in to provide DNA samples is a lot lower than they’ve seen in other disasters,” said Maui County prosecuting attorney Andrew Martin.

Texas resident Jayson Musgrove, who traveled to Maui in search of his missing mother Linda Vaikeli, submitted his DNA. 

“It’s hard to get answers because nobody really knows what’s happening,” he said. “Until someone tells me exactly where she’s at, I’m not gonna stop looking for her.”

The identification of remains has been made more complex due to multiple lists from different agencies. In addition to DNA analysis, authorities are using cellphone technology to help pinpoint individuals’ whereabouts. 

The confirmed death toll remains at 115, and residents are continuing to demand answers on the breakdown in communication during the fires. 

As people tried to escape the worst of the flames on Aug. 8, Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen was seen on a local television station reporting that the road to and from Lahaina was open — seemingly unaware of the severity of the crisis. 

“We had a lot of information coming in and we had lots of communication that was broken down,” Bissen told CBS News’ Jonathan Vigliotti, who asked if he had been getting real-time updates. “I don’t have all the times for me, and I know I’m going to have to go and piece that together.”

When asked whether the lag in communication might have contributed to the magnitude of the loss, Bissen said, “That would be a guess on my part.”

“I can’t tell you what would have would not have changed with that information in terms of the fire,” he said, deferring to fire experts for further analysis. 

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