Identification of Maui fire victims 'just starting' as death toll hits 93

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Efforts to find and identify the people killed in the deadliest US wildfire for more than 100 years are still in their early stages as the official death toll climbs to 93.

Wildfires have spread across Hawaii and ravaged areas of Maui in recent days – but so far crews with cadaver dogs have only been able to cover around 3% of the search area.

Maui Police chief John Pelletier said on Sunday: ‘We’ve got an area that we have to contain that is at least 5 square miles and it is full of our loved ones.

‘None of us really know the size of [the death toll] yet.’

Emergency workers have been working their way through ruined buildings in the historic town of Lahaina.

Buildings were marked with an ‘X’ in bright orange paint to record an initial search, or ‘HR’ if human remains were found.

Mr Pelletier said identifying the dead has been ‘extremely challenging, and only two people have been identified so far.

He explained: ‘We pick up the remains and they fall apart.

‘When we find our family and our friends, the remains that we’re finding is through a fire that melted metal.’

Governor Josh Green called the fires the ‘worst natural disaster that Hawaii ever faced’, adding: ‘We can only wait and support those who are living.

‘Our focus now is to reunite people when we can and get them housing and get them health care, and then turn to rebuilding.’

He also called on people with missing family members to go to the family assistance centre and do a DNA test, to make it easier to ‘identify your loved ones’.

At least 2,200 buildings have been damaged or destroyed in West Maui, and so far across the island the cost of the damage is estimated at $6 billion.

86% of those destroyed buildings were residential, leaving as many as 4,500 people without shelter.

Residents of Lahaina and Kula have been warned not to drink running water, as it could still be contaminated even after boiling.

They’ve also been asked to only take short, lukewarm showers in well-ventilated rooms to avoid possible chemical vapour exposure.

The island’s historic banyan tree was also scorched.

The newly updated death toll surpassed the toll of the 2018 Camp Fire in northern California, which left 85 dead and destroyed the town of Paradise.

A century earlier, the 1918 Cloquet Fire broke out in drought-stricken northern Minnesota and raced through a number of rural communities, destroying thousands of homes and killing hundreds.

Hawaii emergency management records do not indicate the warning sirens sounded before fire hit the town.

Officials sent alerts to phones, televisions and radio stations, but widespread power and mobile phone outages may have limited their reach.

Fueled by a dry summer and strong winds from a passing hurricane, the wildfires on Maui raced through parched brush covering the island.

‘It outpaced anything firefighters could have done in the early hours,’ US Fire Administrator Lori Moore-Merrell said, adding that it moved horizontally, structure to structure and ‘incredibly fast’.

She added: ‘It was a low-to-the-ground fire. It was grass-fed by all evidence that we could observe today.’

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