The blaze that burned through the town of Lahaina on Maui last week has killed at least 101 people, Hawaii’s governor said.
The announcement on Tuesday comes as a mobile morgue unit arrived to help Hawaii officials working painstakingly to identify those killed in the wildfires.
Officials expected to release the first list of names even as teams intensified the search for more dead in neighbourhoods reduced to ash.
The US Department of Health and Human Services deployed a team of coroners, pathologists and technicians along with exam tables, X-ray units and other equipment to identify victims and process remains, said Jonathan Greene, the agency’s deputy assistant secretary for response.
“It’s going to be a very, very difficult mission,” Mr Greene said.
“And patience will be incredibly important because of the number of victims.”
A week after a blaze tore through historic Lahaina, many survivors started moving into hundreds of hotel rooms set aside for displaced locals, while donations of food, ice, water and other essentials poured in.
Crews using cadaver dogs have scoured about 32% of the area, the County of Maui said in a statement on Tuesday.
Governor Josh Green asked for patience as authorities became overwhelmed with requests to visit the burn area.
Just three bodies have been identified, and officials expected to start releasing names on Tuesday, according to Maui Police chief John Pelletier, who renewed an appeal for families with missing relatives to provide DNA samples.
So far 41 samples have been submitted, the county statement said, and 13 DNA profiles have been obtained from remains.
The governor warned that scores more bodies could be found.
The wildfires, some of which have not yet been fully contained, are already the deadliest in the US in more than a century. Their cause was under investigation.
When asked by Hawaii News Now if children are among the missing, Mr Green said: “Tragically, yes… when the bodies are smaller, we know it’s a child.”
He described some of the sites being searched as “too much to share or see from just a human perspective”.
Another complicating factor, Mr Green said, is that storms with rain and high winds were forecast for the weekend.
Officials are mulling whether to “preemptively power down or not for a short period of time, because right now all of the infrastructure is weaker”.
The blaze that swept into centuries-old Lahaina last week destroyed nearly every building in the town of 13,000.
That fire has been 85% contained, according to the county. Another blaze known as the Upcountry fire was 60% contained.
Even where the flames have retreated, authorities have warned that toxic by-products may remain, including in drinking water, after the flames spewed poisonous fumes. That has left many unable to return home.
President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that he and first lady Jill Biden would visit Hawaii “as soon as we can” but he does not want his presence to interrupt recovery and clean-up efforts.
During a stop in Milwaukee to highlight his economic agenda, Mr Biden pledged that “every asset they need will be there for them”.
Published: by Radio NewsHub