Among the 388 Listed as Missing in Maui: Survivors Lost in the Paperwork (2023)



Supported by


Hawaii officials released their first list of missing people, prompting friends — and even some of those named — to come forward with their whereabouts.

  • 215

Among the 388 Listed as Missing in Maui: Survivors Lost in the Paperwork (1)

The fire that leveled Lahaina burned so hot that officials said some victims’ bodies were turned to ash and may never be recovered or identified.

That reality has complicated efforts to figure out how many were killed and how many went missing after the inferno on Aug. 8.

On Thursday, Maui officials issued a list of 388 names of those still considered missing, in an effort to slim down the number of people whose whereabouts were unknown — a number that at one point was beyond 2,000. Ever since its release, friends, relatives and internet sleuths have anxiously scoured the list.

But some were surprised to find their own names there.

“No reason that I should have been on it,” Renee Vachow, a Lahaina resident, wrote in a text message to The New York Times.

Ms. Vachow, who lost everything in the fire, said that despite emailing and calling the F.B.I. and reporting herself as safe to the Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, her name was still bouncing around the internet after being included on the list. “It is on so many social media platforms, it is hard to curtail it,” she said.

On Friday, several others said that they knew residents on the list who were alive. The fact that so many on the list appeared to be safe raised questions about the degree of coordination among various agencies, including the F.B.I., that are tracking and updating reports of missing people.

But it also meant the list had begun to work as intended. State and federal officials said that they made the names public in order to solicit the very reports they have received — and to focus their efforts on identifying those who perished in the deadliest wildfire in more than a century. Maui police chief, John Pelletier, asked that people on the list who had survived the fire come forward to have their names removed.

“We need your help, now and each and every day,” he said.

At a news conference on Friday evening, Steven Merrill, the special agent in charge of the F.B.I.’s Honolulu office, initially said that officials had been able to remove 100 people from the list who were actually safe. But Mr. Merrill later clarified his comments, saying that, in fact, more than 100 people had called in to report people on the list as safe and that many of those calls had yet to be verified.

The fire on Aug. 8 was the deadliest in the U.S. since 1918 and devastated the historic town of Lahaina. Search-and-rescue teams are still sifting through patches of ash and rubble looking for human remains.

The weekslong search through the burned ruins of Lahaina has generated fewer and fewer distinguishable remains as of late, and the death toll has stood at 115 since Monday. Families of those still missing have grown increasingly desperate for any bit of information about what happened to their relatives.

The decision to release the names of the missing came after F.B.I. officials, along with the Maui Police Department, the Red Cross and other agencies, examined lists compiled by shelters, cross-referencing and combining them into one tally. Along the way, they identified many survivors and removed their names.

By releasing the names of the missing, Maui is following a path similar to one that authorities did in Northern California after the Camp Fire in 2018. Initially, the list of the missing from that fire, which consumed the town of Paradise in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, reached 1,300, but it was slowly trimmed following its release. The final death toll was 85 people.

The list released on Thursday had many fewer names than the 1,000 that officials had suggested earlier this week. Mr. Pelletier said the list included anyone for whom officials had a first and last name as well as contact information for someone who reported them missing.

So far, the Maui police have only identified 46 of the 115 remains and released the names of 35 victims. The vast majority of those identified have been older than 60 but Maui officials on Thursday named the first child known to have been killed by the fires: Tony Takafua, who was 7.

Countless families have endured an agonizing wait for news of loved ones who are unaccounted for. Many have held out hope, traversing Maui with posters of the missing, placing them in post offices, hotels, parks and shelters.

Laura Hudelson said she did not hear from her son, Phillip Hudelson, who lives in Lahaina, for nearly two weeks after the fire. Frustrated with a lack of answers, Ms. Hudelson’s daughter flew from San Jose, Calif., to Maui and began searching for Mr. Hudelson. There, she found her brother in a resort, where Red Cross officials had arranged for him to stay after he spent a week sleeping on the beach.

“He was right under their nose and, as of two days ago, we were still getting phone calls asking if he had been found,” said Ms. Hudelson, who lives in Florence, Ariz. “I appreciate what they’ve done, but they need to get their system up to date.”

Ms. Hudelson said the two weeks of not knowing her son’s fate had been grueling.

“Just the not knowing will drive you crazy,” she said. “But I never lost my faith, and I never lost my heart in knowing that he was alive.”

The final death toll from the Lahaina fire, which began on the grassy hillsides above the town and raced, fueled by high winds, through the center of town to the Pacific Ocean, will probably not be known for months. Many people died near Front Street in Lahaina, which runs along the sea wall; in their cars; or possibly in the ocean. Many were trapped in traffic trying to escape the fire, with the surrounding roads blocked by downed power lines.

Authorities have renewed their urgent pleas for people to submit DNA samples for comparison with human remains recovered from the rubble of Lahaina, but some relatives of the missing have been reluctant to do so. On Tuesday, the authorities said they had received only 104 samples from family members, and assured the public that the information would not be used for anything other than identifying the dead of Lahaina.

Veronica Mendoza Jachowski, the executive director of Lahaina Roots Reborn, a social services organization that was formed in the aftermath of the fire, said many immigrants who might have lost someone had been worried about how their DNA would be used.

“‘Is it OK for me to go? Is it safe to go?’” she said she was asked. “At first we didn’t have a clear answer, but now we have the assurance.”

Some immigrants had been living in Lahaina by themselves, Ms. Mendoza Jachowski said, and their families are in faraway places like Mexico or the Philippines. Lahaina Roots Reborn, she said, has been trying to arrange for relatives abroad to give DNA samples.

Susan C. Beachy contributed research.

Tim Arango is a Los Angeles correspondent. Before moving to California, he spent seven years as Baghdad bureau chief and also reported on Turkey. He joined The Times in 2007 as a media reporter. More about Tim Arango

Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs reports on national news. He is from upstate New York and previously reported in Baltimore, Albany, and Isla Vista, Calif. More about Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs

A version of this article appears in print on , Section


, Page


of the New York edition

with the headline:

Tracking Down Maui’s Missing Isn’t So Simple. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe


  • 215



Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Tyson Zemlak

Last Updated: 24/05/2023

Views: 6682

Rating: 4.2 / 5 (63 voted)

Reviews: 94% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Tyson Zemlak

Birthday: 1992-03-17

Address: Apt. 662 96191 Quigley Dam, Kubview, MA 42013

Phone: +441678032891

Job: Community-Services Orchestrator

Hobby: Coffee roasting, Calligraphy, Metalworking, Fashion, Vehicle restoration, Shopping, Photography

Introduction: My name is Tyson Zemlak, I am a excited, light, sparkling, super, open, fair, magnificent person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.