Update: President and First Lady visit Maui town devastated by wildfire
August 21, 2023, 9:36 AM HST
* Updated August 22, 9:10 AM
President Biden and the First Lady arrived at Kahului Airport on Maui at around 11:15 a.m. Upon exit from the plane, the two were greeted by members of Hawaiʻi’s congressional delegation, including US Senators Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono, and US Representative Jill Tokuda.
The delegation boarded a helicopter bound for Lahaina where they took an aerial tour of impacted areas before landing near Lahaina.
During a stop at the inundation zone, President Biden said, “I want you to know, that on behalf of the United States of America and all the nation, the American people stand with you… To my left is the banyan tree, beloved by this community for over 150 years. Here in the former capital of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi, where it stood for generations as a sacred spot of exceptional significance.”
“Today it is burned but it is still standing. The tree survived for a reason. I believe it’s a very powerful symbol of what we can and will do to get through this crisis. For this, as long as it takes, we’re going to be with you. The whole country will be with you. We will be respectful of these sacred grounds and traditions and rebuild the way the people of Maui want it built, not the way others want it built,” said President Biden.
“The devastation is overwhelming,” said President Biden, who surveyed the inundation area from air and by foot along Front Street. “To date 114 are dead and hundreds of others are unaccounted for…”
The president reflected upon his own life experience saying:
“I want you to know, the country grieves with you, stands with you, and will do everything possible to help recover, rebuild, [and] respect culture and traditions when the rebuilding takes place,” he said.
“From stories of grief, we have seen so many stories of hope and heroism, of the aloha spirit. Every emergency responder put their lives on the line to save others. They are everyday heroes, neighbors helping neighbors. Native Hawaiian leaders offering solace and strength. This banyan tree—one called it a diamond in the rough of hope. Another referred to it saying a fire cannot reach its roots. That’s Hawai’i. That’s America. And to the people of Hawaiʻi, we’re with you as long it takes. I promise you. May God bess all of those we’ve lost. May God find those who we haven’t determined yet. And my God bless you all.
Governor Josh Green also delivered comments during the presidential visit. “Of course no one can travel to West Maui right now. We will share when that is possible again. Only returning residents and authorized emergency relief workers should come here now. But all of the other areas of Maui, … and the rest of Hawai’i are safe. They are open. They are available.”
“The mystique and love here, the aloha, is here for you. And the reason I say that is because when you come you will support our local economy and help speed the recovery of the people that are suffering right now,” said Gov. Green. “The thousands and thousands of family members that may have had loss, will still have to care for the others that remain.”
“There may never be another time in our state’s history ever when we need to summon the spirit of aloha as deeply as we summon it today. So for the good of everyone who has been impacted, share aloha. Thank you for making that a part of what we are. The world is watching and we will show them the true strength of our culture, our people and all that we believe; and as they watch us heal, protect and nurture one another, the world will be reminded why it loves and embraces Hawaiʻi, and we embrace it,” said Gov. Green.
US Senator Brian Schatz said that Hawaiʻi has been through hurricanes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions, but he said, “we’ve never seen such a robust federal response.” “Lahaina is one of the most special places on the planet. It was the seat of power for the Hawaiian Kingdom, it was a whaling town, it was a plantation town, and most recently, a vibrant multi-cultural coastal community. And it was gone in an instant.”
“These fires have completely devastated families and communities, and the loss is unimaginable. We mourn parents, grandparents, kids, aunties and uncles, friends and neighbors. To the first responders, who put their own lives at risk to save others; and to everyone on Maui, who has been working around the clock to help this community while your own lives have been turned upside down—Mahalo,” said Sen. Schatz.
During their visit, dignitaries met with emergency responders, survivors, community members, as well as federal, state, and local officials, and survey the area devastated by deadly wildfires on Maui.
As the recovery moves into the next phase, President Biden, alongside FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, announced the appointment of FEMA Region 9 Administrator Bob Fenton as the Federal government’s “Chief Federal Response Coordinator” for Maui.
Previous post (information courtesy The White House)
Fenton is described as one of the nation’s most experienced disaster response-and-recovery officials who has been on the ground in Hawaiʻi from the day the wildfires started. In this role, Fenton will oversee the Federal government’s long-term recovery work on the ground for Maui. President Biden is directing Chief Federal Response Coordinator Fenton to ensure that every Federal asset is provided to help the community rebuild as fast as possible in Maui.
Since the onset of this unprecedented tragedy, President Biden launched a “whole-of-government” effort to support residents and affected communities – and as soon as Hawaiʻi Governor Josh Green requested a Major Disaster Declaration, the President signed it. Dozens of Federal departments and agencies continue working with state and local partners on the ground to assess ongoing needs and provide resources and personnel to support response efforts.
Below are updated statistics and actions from the Biden-Harris Administration’s whole of government response, including a new US Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) announcement of the immediate availability of $3 million, the full amount of “quick release” Emergency Relief (ER) funds requested by the Hawaiʻi Department of Transportation (HDOT), to offset costs associated with traffic management services and repairs to infrastructure needed as a result of damage caused by wildfires.
The Administration encourages individuals impacted by the disaster to register for Federal assistance atwww.disasterassistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621-3362 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week).
Impacted individuals can also visit FEMA’s newly opened joint Disaster Recovery Center at the University of Hawaii Maui College, located at 310 W. Ka’ahumanu Avenue, Kahului, Hawaii, to speak personally with FEMA specialists, get assistance registering for disaster assistance, get in touch with voluntary organizations offering additional support services, and have access to other federal and state resources. The doors are open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. HST seven days a week.
Here is an update on the Biden-Harris Administration’s coordinated federal response:
- As of Sunday, August 20, there are more than 1,000 federal personnel on the ground in Mauiassisting residents in their greatest time of need, including nearly 450 search and rescue team members and 40 canines trained to identify remains. FEMA’s Disaster Survivor Assistance teams are going to shelters and survivors’ homes to help people register for assistance.
- To date, the Biden-Harris Administration has approved $8.2 million in assistance to over 2,700 households, including $3.4 million in initial rental assistance.
- FEMA has made available more than 50,000 meals, 75,000 liters of water, 5,000 cots and 10,000 blankets and shelter supplies to the county government for distribution.
- Thanks to the significant partnership between the Hawaii Fire Relief Housing program administered by the American Red Cross and funded by FEMA, all survivors previously housed in congregate shelters will be offered temporary emergency lodging in hotels by the end of day on Monday, August 21. More than 350 Red Cross disaster responders are working in coordination with partners to ensure people receive help as quickly as possible.
- Last week, President Biden made additional disaster funding available to the state of Hawaii, unlocking the federal government’s ability to cover all eligible expenses for debris removal and emergency protective measures in Maui County and assistance for emergency protective measures for Hawaii County. The President authorized the federal cost share to be increased from 75% to 100% for 30 days that the Governor selects within the first 120 days.
- Nearly 650 personnel from the Department of Defense and 140 members of the Coast Guard are actively participating in the coordinated response to the Western Maui Wildfire. They are assisting with fire suppression, searching debris for remains, distributing fuel, and providing additional life-sustaining support.
- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has deployed 62 responders, 16 remote personnel, and 43 contractors who are assisting with public works and engineering support, which includes installing 15 generators for temporary emergency power, planning for debris collection and removal, and scoping potential requirements for temporary construction of critical public facilities such as schools, fire and police stations.
- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has deployed nearly 50 responders to Maui following the Hawaii wildfires and has a full incident command team on the ground working closely with FEMA and other federal, state, and local partners. The agency’s efforts are focused on identifying, removing, and safely disposing of household hazardous waste and disaster debris to protect residents from environmental and health hazards. This is the next step in the recovery process before the clearing of debris. EPA’s response efforts while on Maui will be guided by its cultural resources and historic properties plan that the agency is working to develop with the Hawaii State Historic Preservation Division. This plan will help responders identify, protect, and properly handle cultural resources, which were significantly impacted during the wildfire.
- The Department of Energy (DOE) has deployed emergency responders to support the Federal response to the wildfires in Maui. DOE is working closely with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Hawaii State Energy Office, and the Hawaii Office of Emergency Management.
- The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR) has deployed 95 responders from ASPR, including experts from the National Disaster Medical System’s Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team and a Victim Identification Center team to assist Maui County with victim identification. In addition, Secretary Becerra issued a Public Health Emergency shortly after the President’s disaster declaration, giving CMS health care providers and suppliers greater flexibility in meeting emergency health needs of Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries on the ground. HHS’ Disaster Distress Helpline – 1-800-985-5990 – is available to provide immediate counseling to anyone affected by the wildfires.
- The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has more than 30 staff on the ground in Hawaii and are phasing in more. Survivors and businesses who register for FEMA assistance will also be eligible for low-interest disaster loans. To be considered for all forms of disaster assistance, survivors must contact FEMA. Information and details on the location of business recovery centers is available by calling the SBA Customer Service Center at (800) 659-2955. Additionally, SBA this week opened a Disaster Business Recovery Center (BRC) for survivors of the Maui wildfires – including homeowners, renters, and small business owners – to seek financial assistance. The SBA Recovery Center is located at Hawaii Technology Development Corporation, Maui Research Technology Center, Building # A, Ste. 119 (Conference Room), 590 Lipoa Pkwy, Kihei, HI 96753.
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service approved waivers,including those that will allow Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) households in Hawaii, including on Maui, to purchase hot foods with SNAP benefits through September 14; allow package size flexibility for those using the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program through October 31 so they have more options to purchase what is available; and allow parents or guardians to pick up meals for children at grab ‘n go sites. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service has deployed a Burned Area Emergency Response team to analyze and map the impacts of the fire to watersheds, including the potential for runoff and debris flows to carry hazardous materials, and support state and local staff in assessing post-fire watershed conditions.
- The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is providing a 90-day relief from foreclosures of Federal Housing Administration-insured mortgages and home equity conversion mortgages. Homeowners affected by the disaster should contact their mortgage or loan servicer immediately. They can also call the FHA Resource Center at 1-800-304-9320 for additional information and visit the FHA Disaster Relief site to learn more about disaster relief options for FHA homeowners. HUD also released regulatory and administrative waivers to help communities accelerate their recovery. This includes funding for housing rehabilitation and reconstruction, homebuyer programs replacing disaster damaged residences, infrastructure improvements and assistance to people at risk of homelessness. HUD has assigned experienced Disaster Technical Assistance providers that will be available remotely and, on the ground, to support local leaders help communities and families that were experiencing homelessness before the devastating fires and those that may require homeless services because of the fires.
- The U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has created a disaster and emergencies guideto handling finances, including resources to help impacted residents recover, such as tackling housing issues, protecting your finances, dealing with property damage, managing your bills, and asking for help from financial companies like banks, credit cards and other lenders. If residents are having trouble with a financial company, they can submit a complaint online or by calling (855) 411-CFPB (2372).
- The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is making available $3 million, the full amount of “quick release” Emergency Relief (ER) funds requested by the Hawaii Department of Transportation (HDOT), to offset costs associated with traffic management services in the wake of the wildfires. Additionally, DOT currently has three temporary flight restrictions in place to help facilitate search and rescue missions and has worked with major U.S. airlines that serve Kahului Airport to promote flexible travel policies.
- The Heritage Emergency National Task Force (HENTF), a partnership between FEMA and Smithsonian Institution, is working through the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency to ensure that museums and cultural heritage sites are incorporated into FEMA preliminary damage assessments to anticipate needs associated with long-term recovery planning.