An aerial view of a wildfire in Kihei, Maui County, Hawaii, U.S., August 8, 2023 in this screen grab obtained from a social media video.
Clint Hansen Of Maui Real Estate | Via Reuters
President Joe Biden on Thursday vowed immediate assistance for Maui residents who have lost loved ones and their homes in devastating wildfires that have taken at least 36 lives.
Biden declared a major disaster in Hawaii two days after wildfires rapidly swept across parts of Maui, devastating the historic city of Lahaina, the former capital when the islands were an independent kingdom.
“We have just approved a major disaster declaration for Hawaii which will get aid into the hands of the people desperately, desperately needing help now,” the president said during remarks in Utah.
“Anyone who’s lost a loved one, whose home has been damaged or destroyed, is going to get help immediately,” Biden said.
The president said he spoke with Hawaii Gov. Josh Green Thursday morning and vowed to provide any federal assistance the state needs to recover from the fires.
Biden said he directed FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell to streamline requests to get federal aid to survivors without delay. Criswell will travel to Maui on Friday, the president said.
The disaster declaration that Biden issued Thursday will provide money to help with temporary housing, home repairs and uninsured property losses.
This graphic shows the location of fires on the island of Maui, Hawaii, Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023. Several thousand Hawaii residents raced to escape homes on Maui as the Lahaina fire swept across the island, killing multiple people and burning parts of a centuries-old town.
The president has ordered the military to the island to help fight the blaze and evacuate people out of harms way. The Navy’s Third Fleet, the Army and the U.S. Coast are being deployed to assist local emergency response crews, Biden said. The Marines are providing Black Hawk helicopters to help fight the fires.
“We’re working as quickly as possible,” the president said. “We’ll fight these fires and evacuate residents and tourists. In the meantime, our prayers [are] with the people of Hawaii. But not just our prayers, every asset we have will be available to them.”
There were still six active fires burning on Maui and the island of Hawaii as of Thursday morning, a state emergency management official told NBC News. More than 2,000 acres have been scorched by the blaze.
A U.S. Coast Guard boat and helicopter crew rescued 14 people who fled into the ocean to escape the fires and smoke, said Brigadier General Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, during a briefing Thursday.
The National Guard has activated 134 personnel to assist with the wildfire response, Ryder said. The Army, Navy and National Guard have deployed two Black Hawk helicopters, three Chinooks, and two Seahawks to help fight the fires and help with search and recovery operations.
The U.S. Department of Transportation is also working with commercial airlines to help evacuate tourists from Maui. United Airlines on Thursday cancelled passenger flights into Kahului Airport on Maui so the planes could fly empty into the island to help evacuate passengers back to the mainland U.S.