The number of people who died in the massive wildfires that torched parts of Maui last month has been revised to 97, down from the previous count of 115, Hawaii governor said Friday.
The change in the death count was prompted by advanced genetic testing conducted by anthropologists at the Department of Defense, Hawaii Gov. Josh Green told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
“They were able to make sure we weren’t tragically co-mingling any of the people we lost. For instance, in a car where there might have been several people – at first it might have been thought there were eight people, instead there were five,” Green explained.
As of Friday, 31 people remain unaccounted for after the fires devastated many communities in Maui County. But that number could also decrease because there are 23 people who died during the fires who haven’t been identified yet, the governor added. Those people are likely included in the 31 count.
The fires began spreading erratically on August 8, nearly leveling the historic town of Lahaina, forcing people to jump into the ocean as flames chased them and displaced hundreds of residents. The tragedy was followed by days of crews digging through the rubble of what used to be homes, businesses and historic landmarks – in hopes of any signs of life or body recovery.
As the state looks to reopen West Maui on October 8, it is working on moving more than 7,400 people from hotels to long-term housing, the governor said.
“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,” Green said, adding that tourists need to be “kind and respectful” while visiting.
The Environmental Protection Agency is also working on clearing hazardous materials from the disaster area in Maui.
The first zones that will be accessible to residents for return are expected to be announced next week, Maui County said in a news release Friday.
Residents and property owners will be required to receive passes for reentry beginning September 22, county officials said in the news release.
“Re-entry into those zones is expected to begin Monday, September 25, with residents escorted to the properties and provided personal protective equipment during the first two visits,” the news release says.