MANILA – The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Tuesday said around 50 Filipinos teaching in Hawaii were among the thousands of individuals who were able to flee from the deadly wildfires that struck the island of Maui.

DFA Assistant Secretary Raymund Paul Cortes said these nationals are J-1 visa holders and are in Hawaii under the United States government’s exchange visitor program, where they were hired as teachers by the Hawaii State Department of Education for two to three years.

Cortes said these teachers have “marked themselves as safe” and are now being housed at a shelter provided by the local authorities.

“These 50 J-1 visa holders who are only temporarily staying in the US will get aid and some financial assistance from the Philippine government through our Philippine Consulate General in Honolulu,” Cortes said in a Laging Handa briefing.

Citing the 2020 US state census, Cortes said there are about 388,000 individuals in Hawaii who identify themselves as Filipino or part-Filipino.

Of this number, about 200,000 have parents who are both Filipinos but only 16 percent are Philippine passport holders.

“The likelihood na may (that there is) Filipino ancestry na naapektuhan ng (who was affected by the) wildfire in Lahaina (town) is very high but the likelihood that there are Philippine passport holders is very minimal,” he said.

Official information from the Philippine Consulate General in Honolulu said the search and rescue operations have only reached about 3 percent of the areas gutted by the wildfires.

As of Aug. 15, the death toll from the blaze has reached 99 with local authorities yet to ascertain both their identities and ethnicities.

“Hindi pa nila naa-identify ‘yong 99 na fatalities (They haven’t identified the 99 fatalities) so it’s a little difficult at this point to say that there are Filipino passport holders involved,” Cortes said.

“Suffice it to say many of our fellow Filipinos, although they’ve been in the US for 20 or 30 or 40 years, have been affected by the wildfires in Lahaina,” he added. (PNA)