The death toll from the Maui wildfires has now dropped to 97 people, after officials previously believed at least 115 had been lost to the devastation — and 31 remain missing.
Hawaii Governor Josh Green explained the changing numbers on CNN on Friday: “The death toll dropped because we have Department of Defense anthropologists who are able to do a lot more advanced genetics. They were able to make sure we weren’t tragically commingling any of the people we lost.”
However, 31 people are still unaccounted for in the aftermath of the fires. Last week, Governor Green had said that 66 were still missing.
This number has dwindled significantly since the FBI announced last month that 388 were still missing. After people saw their names on the list, though, they started calling in to get their names removed. Very quickly, that list was slashed by 100 names.
The wildfires rampaged Hawaii starting on 8 August — hitting the historic town of Lahaina particularly hard, as hundreds of buildings, including many homes, were wiped out by the blazes. Reconstruction is expected to take years and cost billions.
As West Maui is expected to re-open on 8 October, Mr Green said, the state is working on relocating more than 7,400 people from hotels to long-term housing.
“We don’t expect a lot of people at first, although I was just with some travel executives, and they did share that people are rallying around the world to come and help us recover,” the governor explained. He said that tourists need to be “kind and respectful” while visiting.
Late last month, the Environmental Protection Agency announced it would send crews to remove hazardous materials from the region; residents will be allowed to re-enter these areas once the EPA has properly cleared it.
According to a Maui County press release from Friday, the re-entry zones “are expected to be announced next week. Property owners and residents in those zones will be contacted before the start of the process to acquire passes for re-entry into those zones begins on Friday, September 22.”