Fewer people died in last month’s Maui wildfires than previously believed, Hawaii Gov. Josh Green (D) announced Friday.
The death toll was revised to 97 from 115 after federal fire investigators assisted local authorities in identifying remains, Green said.
“Thank God, fewer people passed away,” he said in a video message shared on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.
That toll could still rise again, however. Green said there are currently 31 open cases that are being investigated — and only 74 of the dead have been identified.
The wildfire was the deadliest in the U.S. in more than a century. High winds quickly entrapped and enveloped the town of Lahaina on Maui’s west coast, effectively completely destroying it. The blaze caused about $5.5 billion in damage, the Federal Emergency Management Agency estimated.
Green added that over 8,000 people are in temporary housing due to the fires.
The death toll becomes more accurate over time as authorities have more time to assess remains, Defense Department lab director John Byrd said Friday.
“We look at body bags that come in and we do an initial inventory and we assess how many people are represented there,” he said. “When you do the first tally of all those that have come in, the number tends to be too high because as you begin to do more analysis and examination you realize that actually you’ve got two bags that were the same person or you have two bags that were the same two people but you didn’t realize that.”
“The numbers start a little too high on the morgue side and eventually settles until at some point it’s going to be a final accurate number,” Byrd continued. “I would say we’re not quite there yet.”
House Republicans announced a probe into the Biden administration’s response to the fires on Friday, saying they will investigate how FEMA has managed the recovery efforts.
“The deadly wildfire in Maui shocked the nation and left many, especially those directly impacted by the tragedy, with serious questions that remain unanswered today,” Reps. James Comer (R-Ky.) and Pete Sessions (R-Texas) said in a joint statement. “President Biden built his entire reputation on empathy and compassion but failed to deliver an appropriate response when it mattered most.”
A separate House hearing on the fire will be held later this month.
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