Nearly a week after devastating wildfires ravaged the Hawaiian island of Maui, the exact death toll remains unknown.
family About 1,300 people are missing They waited anxiously for their news, while corpse-sniffing dogs searched the burnt disaster area.
Hawaii Gov. Josh Greene announced Monday that it could take up to 10 days to come up with accurate numbers and that researchers may find “10 to 20 people per daypossibly until they “finish” their work.
lengthy identification process
As of Aug. 15, only three dead had been identified, said Adam Weintraub, communications director for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.
Victim identification experts ask BBC to confirm names of other Maui victims It can take months or even years.
Finding and identifying the victims will be a daunting task due to the extent of the damage and the conditions under which many remains may be found.
Maui County Police Chief John Pelletier described the tragic reality on the ground, telling reporters: “It’s not just ash on the clothes you take off.they are our relatives“.
“The tricky part is collecting,” said Daniele Podini, associate professor of forensic molecular biology at George Washington University.
“Finding the right sample, identifying next of kin, creating a database of all the relatives of the missing person, and then comparing the sample results to that database…it’s all a combination.”
Chris Milroy, a professor of pathology and experimental medicine at the University of Ottawa, explained that in the case of Hawaii, many scientific approaches may have been complicated by the destruction of the region.
“Because of the fire and disruption of civil service, they probably didn’t have access to dental records. Maybe some of them were also destroyed in the fire,” said Milroy, who has extensive experience in UK police forensic investigations and war crimes in the Balkans.
“So this approach may not work for a lot of people,” he said.
Evidence destroyed by fire
The scholar also pointed out High temperatures may destroy fingerprints some victims.
Evidence that investigators were able to link a person to medical devices such as hip replacements or pacemakers, or fragments from which DNA samples could be extracted, may also have been removed.
“You’re mostly looking at DNA,” but “you also need people to compare to,” he said.
“You can have things like dead siblings and confirm that they were related, but you can’t tell which is the brotherunless you have other circumstantial evidence,” he concluded.
Visual identification of family members is considered unreliable, as are the discovery of personal items such as bags or purses, and the discovery of human remains.
“There’s the question of elements and fragments mixing that could fragment,” Milroy said.
“Since most of the body (of the deceased) has likely been damaged by the fire, there may be family members who are so taken aback by the event that they say it was, but it wasn’t. That’s why the scientific method is preferred,” he warned.
key role of dog
Dogs specially trained to find dead bodies play a key role in the search.
The dogs can move through the rubble without causing further damage and use their keen sense of smell to detect human remains, even reduced to ashes It is difficult to detect with the naked eye.
FEMA has deployed an additional 20 dogs to the area, but their daily hours are limited by the heat and the need for rest periods.
Although working in Hawaii is complicated, Long delays in identifying the dead are not uncommon In the event of fire and other disasters.
In 2017, for example, a fire destroyed the 24-story Grenfell Tower in London, and it took about five months of investigations to conclusively determine the deaths of all 72 people.
Once visible debris has been removed from the scene, investigators must use small towels and mesh filters to find smaller, more difficult-to-identify human remains.
And in the United States, some remains are still being identified from the World Trade Center towers after the September 11, 2001, attacks. In this case, about 40 percent of the remains of the deceased remain to be identified.
Mike Marciano, a forensic scientist and professor at Syracuse University in New York, hopes the Hawaii investigation will draw on federal and other state resources.
This may include assistance from the U.S. Military DNA Testing Laboratory, which He is often tasked with identifying the remains of soldiers missing since World War II.
The lab has facilities at Pearl Harbor-Hickam Base on the nearby island of Oahu.
Even so, the process would still be slow, the scientists noted.
“It’s going to be a process that lasts much longer than weeks. I’d say months, but it all depends on resources,” he predicted.
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