As Maui death toll rises, number of missing remains unclear


(LAHAINA, Hawaii) — Po’omaika’i Estores-Losano normally texts in a group chat with his family every day. But since the wildfires tore through Lahaina last week, his family hasn’t heard from the 28-year-old father of two.

“He would text us every day like, ‘Hope you have a good day,"” his sister, Jayna Barut, told “Good Morning America.” “After the second day, we got kind of worried because he would never not call or let us know, like, ‘Oh, by the way, I’m OK.”

His family has been calling hospitals and checking shelters as they wait for news or a text from Estores-Losano, who is among the many people missing more than a week after the fires.

The number of people who are missing or unaccounted for is challenging to track. Communication services have been lacking and thousands of people are displaced due to the fires. As the disaster zone continues to be searched, victims are slowly being identified — some with the help of DNA contributed by family members. At least 111 people have been confirmed dead in the fires — though only some identified — with about 58% of the area destroyed by wildfires in Maui searched as of late Thursday.

Officials have been referring families with missing loved ones to Maui Emergency Management Agency, which has not released an official number of missing or list of the names.

Maui Police Chief John Pelletier said they are considering those who are missing “unaccounted for.”

“We’re going to get everybody that’s unaccounted for to the best of our ability accounted for,” he told reporters earlier this week. “But I can’t promise that we’re gonna get them all. And I don’t think that’s fair to ask that.”

In the meantime, two groups of volunteers are working to track the missing.

One team of volunteers is behind the Maui Fires People Locator, a spreadsheet that is so widely used that a QR code for it is posted all over the island. The Google document has received so much traffic that the volunteers urge people to refrain from viewing it unless they are looking for a specific loved one.

The document lists more than 950 people as currently “not located.” The group told ABC News that as more people gain access to communications, many have realized they were on the list as “not located” and self-reported that they are found.

A team of more than 50 volunteers from a variety of backgrounds is behind the spreadsheet, according to its creator, Ellie Erickson.

“The common theme is immense empathy and love to those impacted by the fires,” she said in a statement to ABC News. “Regardless of background, the goal is to help those affected.”

Another group of volunteers is tracking people who were unhoused prior to the fires in a spreadsheet titled Lahaina Unsheltered Missing Persons Search. That effort is led by Maui Rescue Mission Outreach workers, who are also updating their numbers to the Maui Fires People Locator.

Jelena Dackovic is helping organize the team of volunteers tracking the known homeless in West Maui prior to the fires. So far more than 140 people have been found alive, though Dackovic fears many remain unaccounted for.

“I think communication is hard for everyone, and especially if you already do not have a phone, or the relationships with family are sometimes complicated,” she told ABC News. “All that makes the situation way harder.”

Those looking for loved ones are urged to seek information at the Family Assistance Center in Kaanapali. Family members are also able to provide DNA samples to aid in identifying deceased victims.

Leona Castillo, Estores-Losano’s mother, did the DNA swab this week.

“I want to hang on to the hope that he’s alive,” she told “Good Morning America.” “But after doing something like this, how do you hold on to that, you know?”

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