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Officials aim to dispel confusion surrounding efforts to ID Maui wildfire victims

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Authorities in Maui have released a new number of those who are still unaccounted for from the wildfires - about 1,000 people. That number has fluctuated in recent days as names have been taken off and added. NPR's Greg Allen reports officials are trying to dispel some of the confusion.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: It's a large number. The FBI says somewhere between 1,000 and 1,100 names are on the list, but it's been compiled from a variety of sources. A task force of agents from the FBI and local police departments have been going through it. But Maui Police Chief John Pelletier says much of the information is still spotty.

JOHN PELLETIER: Some of them have first names only, and there's no contact number back. So there was a - John's (ph) missing. When we try to call back who said that, nobody's answering. And so we're trying to scrub this to make it as accurate as we can.

ALLEN: It's not unusual to have a large number of people unaccounted for after a disaster. So far, officials here have resisted calls to make the names public, in part because the list is so unverified. But it's a step they say they're hoping to take soon. Yesterday, authorities held a news conference to ask people with missing family members to file reports with the police and to provide DNA swabs to aid in victim identification. A company that specializes in rapid DNA identification says it's retrieved usable DNA from three-quarters of the remains so far. Just 104 family members have come forward to provide DNA samples. Andrew Martin, Maui's prosecuting attorney who's heading the effort to collect DNA from family members, says that's lower than what's been seen in other disasters.

ANDREW MARTIN: As to why that is, I can only speculate. I want to make sure that we reassure people that by coming in and providing a DNA sample, the only purpose for which it will be used is helping identify the unaccounted for.

ALLEN: So far, more than a third of the victims have been identified but only about half of their names have been made public. Police Chief Pelletier says it's important to first notify the next of kin.

PELLETIER: We're trying diligently to be as respectful as we possibly can, and here's why - I think they've suffered enough.

ALLEN: Meanwhile, crews are still looking for victims in Lahaina. They've completed their search of the single-story residential properties and are now working on multistory buildings in the last area remaining.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Maui. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.