President Joe Biden issued a federal disaster declaration following “devastating” Hawaii wildfires across several parts of the Big Island and Maui and promised to send whatever is needed to help the recovery.
The fires have killed at least 36 people and devastated Lahaina, a town on the island of Maui. Speaking at an unrelated event in Utah on Thursday, Biden said the federal government is moving fast in its response.
“We’re working as quickly as possible to fight those fires and evacuate residents and tourists. In the meantime, our prayers are with the people of Hawaii, but not just our prayers: every asset that we have will be available to them,” Biden said as he began remarks at a Veterans Affairs medical center in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Assistance from the declaration can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses and other programs to help with recovery.
The aid from the disaster declaration “will get aid into the hands of people who desperately need help,” Biden said, vowing that “anyone who’s lost a loved one or whose home has been damaged or destroyed is going to get help immediately.”
He noted that Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell travels to Maui on Friday, and he has “directed her to streamline any process, request for help, and survivors registered for needing federal assistance without delay.”
FEMA, he added, is “gonna help survivors get access to critical assistance,” urging those affected to visit disasterassistance.gov.
Along with FEMA, Biden noted he has ordered all available federal assets on the island, including the US Coast Guard, the Navy Third Fleet and the US Army, to “assist local emergency response crews, along with the Hawaii National Guard.”
He recognized the firefighters, first responders, and other emergency personnel “working around the clock there.”
Biden also noted that he held a “long conversation” by phone with Gov. Josh Green Thursday morning.
“Let him know I’m going to make sure the state has everything it needs from the federal government to recover,” Biden said of the call.
Green told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on “The Situation Room” Thursday that Biden’s declaration has made “a difference in our spirit already,” noting that president approved the state’s request within six hours.
“That’s a big deal. It could be just days before we see some resources come to the many hundreds of families that will need the help,” the governor said. “It will take more time for insurance to kick in, which we will also be advocating for.”
“But, we are standing here also with the leadership of FEMA,” he added. “They’re already on the ground; we’re grateful to them.”
Earlier Thursday, the White House said the administration is “working very closely with Hawaii” as the state struggles with devastating wildfires that have left dozens of people dead.
“We’re working very closely with Hawaii, Hawaii and official … we’re also deploying some military assets FEMA personnel on the ground,” National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications Jon Kirby told CNN’s Poppy Harlow. “We’re going to focus on this as keenly and as sharply as we can.”
A White House official told CNN that Hawaii has asked for shelter supplies from Federal Emergency Management Agency, including water, food, cots and blankets. FEMA Region 9 Administrator Bob Fenton and his team are in Oahu, and he has mobilized an Incident Management Assistance Team to help with the federal response, the official added.
The White House statement said, “President Biden confirmed he signed a Major Disaster Declaration for Hawaii that will deliver additional federal resources and support on top of the actions already underway by FEMA, the National Guard, the U.S. Coast Guard, and other federal agencies to support the emergency response.”
This story has been updated with additional developments.