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Third victim of Marco Polo fire was found in apartment, family says


    Joann Kuwata


    Firefighters battling the blaze from the makai side of the Marco Polo building.

The family of a 71-year-old woman, who was one of three people killed Friday in one of Honolulu’s worst high-rise fires, says she was found inside her 26th-floor apartment.

Family members of Joann Kuwata, a retired dental assistant, are awaiting the results of an autopsy to learn how she died, said her sister Jayne Matsuyama.

“It’s so tragic,” said Dawn Dunbar, Kuwata’s niece, who was close to her. “You don’t want any family to deal with something like this. It’s all of a sudden. … The circumstances. … We’re heartbroken.”

Kuwata was single and lived alone for the last 20 years in apartment 2615 at the Marco Polo on Kapiolani Boulevard, Matsuyama said.

Dunbar spoke to someone at the Medical Examiner’s Office, who said “they’re hoping we’ll be able to come to see her,” adding, “To us, that meant she wasn’t completely burned.”

“We’ve been unable to talk to anyone (with the Fire Department),” she said. “We haven’t been able to get in there.”

Capt. David Jenkins, spokesman for the Honolulu Fire Department, said that the apartment where the single fatality occurred had “heavy smoke damage — soot ceiling-to-floor — and heat damage hot enough to melt plastic moldings and light fixtures from ceiling to floor.”

He said that compared to the other apartment where a mother and son died, which had “a lot of fire damage with heavy charring, “a lay person may have seen little damage, but it was extremely hot,”

The conditions in both units were unsurvivable, he said.

Kuwata rented the apartment from a mainland owner, whose brother lives on the same floor and took care of the apartment.

Kuwata was a Roosevelt High School graduate. She was in her 20s when she left Hawaii for Northern California, where she got a job as a secretary for Standard Oil Co., Matsuyama said.

She returned home after a few years.

Kuwata worked as a dental assistant for Dr. Randall Honda, a dentist at Kahala Mall, and retired about five years ago.

“She was an excellent worker, and the dentist did not want her to retire,” Matsuyama said. “She enjoyed her job,” adding that their father was a dentist.

“She has a lot of patience, very soft-spoken,” Matsuyama said. “To me, everybody likes her.”

Kuwata was healthy and kept fit by doing a lot of walking, she said.

Matsuyama said her sister was a private person who kept to herself.

She was closest to Dunbar, Mastsuyama’s youngest daughter, she said.

Dunbar said when she and another cousin were younger, her aunt “would take us all over and do things. We had some really great times. She was a quiet, but very caring person.”

Kuwata is also survived by two other sisters, Julie Wong and Sandra Uchida, and two brothers, James and Kenneth Kuwata.

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