Maui, Hawaii —
The team of specialists – including forensic pathologists, X-ray technicians, fingerprint specialists and forensic dentists – work 12 hours a day in a makeshift morgue near the Mau County coroner’s office. This team identified the charred remains of victims from the fire disaster this month.
They are members of the federal Mortuary Operational Response Team (DMORT) program, which deploys when incidents of mass death overwhelm local authorities.
The breadth of experience of the team members underscores the difficulty of the task facing the team. The number of victims is unknown, hundreds are still on the missing persons list, and in some cases the raging fires have left little body parts.
This work is so important, with many families desperate to know the fate of their relatives and hoping for a chance to say goodbye. The death toll in the devastated city of Lahaina has exceeded 100, but only a handful have been officially identified, saying the process will be long.
“It’s so important for families to find their loved ones back– that’s our mission, and when we do that will be a good day,” said Frank Sebastian, 68, DMORT Maui commander and retired medical examiner from the Seattle area.
There are 10 regional DMORTs across the Americas, comprising more than 600 civilian members, that act on disasters as varied as plane crashes, hurricanes and mass attacks such as the September 11, 2001 hijacking. (my/jm)