World

Odds Of Survival For Still-Missing Loved Ones Wane After Maui Fire

LAHAINA, Hawaii (AP) — The days of waiting have become harder and harder as the odds grow longer and longer, but Kevin Baclig remains undeterred in his search for his wife and her parents, missing since Aug. 8 when a wildfire engulfed and flattened the Hawaiian town of Lahaina.

He has gone looking from one shelter to another, hoping strangers might recognize the faces on the flyers he brings with him. Baclig, 30, has driven back and forth to Lahaina, desperately scouting for anything that might lead him to his wife, Angelica, and her parents, Joel and Adela Villegas. Six other relatives who lived next door also remain unaccounted for.

“I’m not going to give up until I see them,” he said. “Of course I’m hoping to find them alive. … What else can I do?”

Even as he tries to sound optimistic, his voice is subdued.

“I’ve been searching and searching — in Lahaina, everywhere,” Baclig said, speaking in Ilocano, a dialect of the northern Philippines.

The blaze took scores of lives and destroyed hundreds of homes, including the house Baclig’s family bought three years ago on Kopili Street, about a 15-minute walk to historic Front Street, once a bustling tourist center but now a bleak avenue of flattened buildings lined with charred vehicles.

The remains of 114 people have been found, most of them yet to be identified. Hawaii Gov. Josh Green has said the death toll will likely rise in the days to come as the painstaking search for remains continues in the heaps of rubble and ash in Lahaina, a seaside community of 12,000 and a tourist hotspot on Maui.

Officials acknowledge they don’t have a firm number on the missing. Many initially listed as unaccounted for have since been located.

Earlier this week, Police Chief John Pelletier said authorities would do their best to track down the missing. “But I can’t promise that we’re going to get them all,” he said.

Burned cars and homes are seen in a neighborhood that was destroyed by a wildfire on Aug. 18 in Lahaina, Hawaii.

Justin Sullivan via Getty Images

On the day before the fire, Po’omaika’i Estores-Losano, a 28-year-old father of two, wished aloha to his ohana, the Hawaiian word for family. “Another beautiful day in Hawaii,” he wrote on Facebook, ending his post by urging his circle to “have fun, enjoy,” and to never be “unhappy and grumpy.”

He was among the scores still missing Saturday. His family has scoured the island looking for him, checking hospitals and shelters. Without a car, Estores-Losano would have had to outrun the fire and smoke.

“We don’t want him to think we stopped looking for him,” said Ku’ulei Barut, who last spoke to her brother the day before he went missing.

His mother, Leona Castillo, wants to hang on to the possibility that her son is still alive, but she knows she may have to face a reality she’s not yet ready to accept. Last week, as the talk of body counts intensified, she got herself swabbed for DNA.

She wants him found, no matter how and where.

“We don’t want him to be lost,” she said. “If we don’t get his body back, he’ll just be lost.”

People gather to help offload a boat with supplies in Kahana, Hawaii.
People gather to help offload a boat with supplies in Kahana, Hawaii.

Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images

In the days after the fire, there was chaos and confusion, with so many families looking for missing loved ones. Castillo said she was relieved for friends and neighbors who were reunited with loved ones.

But she wondered when would it be her turn.

“I just want closure,” she said.

Ace Yabes is also waiting for word about his relatives — nine in all who are missing, including Angelica Baclig, whose family lived next door to an aunt and her family, five of whom have still not be found.

Kevin Baclig was at work as a nurse at a skilled nursing facility when the fire raced down from the hills and into town, igniting nearly everything in its path.

“I’ve been searching all the shelters, hotels, possible places they might go — I’ve gone to all of them. I’ve gone to the houses of their friends,” he said. “I’ve reported them missing to the MPD (Maui Police Department), to the FBI. I’ve been showing their pictures.”

Baclig, who is staying with friends in Kahalui on the northern flank of the island, holds out hope as he searches.

An image taken by a drone shows a white cat pausing next to burned-out cars in a Lahaina neighborhood destroyed by fire.
An image taken by a drone shows a white cat pausing next to burned-out cars in a Lahaina neighborhood destroyed by fire.

Justin Sullivan via Getty Images

Maybe in their haste to flee, none had the time to grab their cellphones — which might explain why Baclig has yet to get a call. Maybe they are looking for him, too, and unsure about his whereabouts.

Amid anguish and uncertainty, and as he nears the end of his efforts, he continues to pray for help.

“Lord, guide me in everything,” he wrote Thursday on Facebook. “I don’t know what to do.”

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