As Wildfires Devastate Maui, Biden Vows Speedy Federal Funds to Help

President Joe Biden said he was rushing federal support to Hawaii after deadly wildfires tore through the island of Maui, vowing to quickly help people affected.

(Bloomberg) — President Joe Biden said he was rushing federal support to Hawaii after deadly wildfires tore through the island of Maui, vowing to quickly help people affected.

“Anyone who has lost a loved one or whose home has been damaged or destroyed is going to get help immediately,” Biden said Thursday at an event in Salt Lake City, his latest stop on a four-day trip through western states. 

Biden earlier Thursday made a disaster declaration for Hawaii that will release federal funding and deliver additional aid to help state and local recovery efforts. The president said he had spoken by phone with Hawaii Governor Josh Green about the situation and promised to deploy all needed federal assets. 

“I’ve directed that we surge support to those great firefighters and first responders and emergency personnel working around the clock risking their lives,” Biden said.

Wildfires fanned by winds from a distant hurricane have spread across Maui, killing at least 36 people, forcing thousands to flee and sending others to emergency shelters. Roughly 100 firefighters are helping to battle the flames while the US Coast Guard rescued 14 people from waters off the historic town of Lahaina.

Read More: Maui Wildfires Kill 36, Devastate Island as Thousands Flee

In a statement Wednesday, Biden said the Hawaiian National Guard and Army have mobilized helicopters to help contain the fires and aid ongoing search-and-rescue efforts. He also said the Department of Transportation is working with commercial airlines to evacuate tourists, while the Interior and Agriculture departments are ready to help with post-fire recovery. 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is gathering emergency supplies and responding to Hawaiian officials’ requests for items such as water, food and blankets, according to a White House official on Thursday. FEMA has mobilized an Incident Management Assistance Team to coordinate the federal response, the official added. 

The White House also intends to submit a $25 billion supplemental funding request that will include at least $12 billion for disaster assistance, according to people familiar with the plans.

Read more: Biden to Seek $25 Billion in New Funding, Including for Ukraine

The wildfires are the latest example of extreme weather that has plagued communities in the US and globally. July was declared the earth’s hottest month on record and temperatures in some US cities repeatedly surpassed 100F. That has raised public health concerns, disrupted transportation and strained power grids. People have also suffered from the effects of wildfires in Canada, which blanketed cities in the US Northeast and Midwest with thick, toxic smoke.

Biden has said extreme heat costs the US $100 billion annually, linking it directly to climate change. Last month, he asked the Department of Labor to issue a hazard alert to ensure workers had heat-related protections under federal law.

Biden has regularly cited the extreme weather in support of his climate and economic agenda, saying they highlight the need to transition the country to clean-energy sources that will also bring high-paying jobs and grow the economy.

The spate of extreme weather has brought pressure from activists for Biden to declare a national climate emergency. Biden has stopped short of doing so, instead touting his other actions on climate, such as land conservation, rejoining the Paris climate accords, and the hundreds of billions in Inflation Reduction Act money. 

Biden in a Weather Channel interview that aired Wednesday said he “practically” had declared an emergency. A formal declaration would unlock sweeping powers such as the ability to block crude oil exports and curb other fossil fuels.

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