Hope is tested as search drags on for people missing in Maui fires – Times of India

NAPILI-HONOKOWAI, HAWAII: Tim Laborte returned to his native Maui on Saturday, bringing a backpack full of posters with pictures of his stepfather and a fragile hope that he might still be found alive after going missing in the wildfires that razed a historic Hawaiian town.
“Where can I put up a missing person sign?” Laborte asked at a volunteer-run aid distribution site in a park near Lahaina, which lies in blackened ruins.
Hawaiian authorities have confirmed that the August 8 fires killed at least 114 people on the island. But only a few of those have been identified and hundreds more are still unaccounted for as a search for human remains continues, leaving Maui stuck in a limbo of uncertain grief almost two weeks later.
A volunteer pointed Laborte to a whiteboard propped against a table and found him a pen so that he could add a name to a list titled “Looking For Someone?” He crouched down, and wrote: Joseph Lara. “We think he got out, we think he just wasn’t smart enough to check in,” explained Laborte, who said his stepfather lived alone in Lahaina.
The county government has taken over a nearby hotel, where relatives can formally report missing loved ones and have their cheeks swabbed for DNA samples to help identify the dead.
Some have already resigned themselves to eventually getting a sad phone call or message confirming the worst. Others, like Laborte, prefer to nurture hope.
Leslie Hiraga, a volunteer at the aid distribution site in Napili Park, smiled at Laborte’s optimism. The two quickly
figured out they had both attended the same Lahaina high school.
So had another person listed on the whiteboard: Toni Molina, whom Hiraga had known since childhood. “I know she’s not alive,” Hiraga, 64, said of Molina, who was a bridesmaid at her wedding and decades later remained one
of her best friends. “We spent all of our holidays together.”
The last time anyone heard from Molina, Hiraga said, she was still sheltering at her home in Lahaina on the evening of August 8, probably too late to escape the fast-spreading inferno that consumed the oceanfront town with just three main roads out.
As Laborte, 57, filled out a missing-people form with his stepfather’s address and other details, Hiraga realized her
friend’s home had been just a few doors down the street from Lara. “He’s about 86,” said Laborte, who had flown in from O?ahu to join relatives in the search for Lara. “He probably didn’t think to contact us.”
Laborte pulled out one of his posters, emblazoned with ‘MISSING’ in red letters, and a photo of his smiling stepfather in a blue shirt with a small dog on his lap. “Always with white dog ‘Haupia’,” the poster read. Hiraga gave him some tape, and he stuck it to a wall.
The family had also circulated Lara’s pictures online and had heard from someone who said she saw Lara at a market near Lahaina after the fires broke out. Laborte was unsure how much faith to put in the report. “There’s a lot of old Filipino guys with dogs,” he said.
Hiraga told him she had heard some people who managed to drive out of Lahaina in one direction had been sent back the other way, and had not been seen since.
This was news to Laborte. His mood dampened. Still, he had plenty of posters in his bag, and nothing was known for certain, so the next morning he got up and headed out to stick up more of them in shop windows.

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