20.04.2024

Hope is hard to let go after Maui fire, as odds wane over reuniting with still-missing loved ones

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, which was littered with burned-out vehicles after the fire.

The remains of 114 people have been found, most of them yet to be identified. And Hawaii Gov. Josh Green has said the death toll will rise for the foreseeable future 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.

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

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 is among the missing. 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.

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

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 and her family.

Her husband, a nurse at a skilled nursing facility, was at work 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.

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.

He has been praying for help.

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *