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President Joe Biden on Thursday declared Hawaii wildfires a “major disaster” and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the areas impacted by the wildfires since August 8. Biden’s action makes federal funding available to impacted people in Maui County.
A White House statement said, “Today, President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. declared that a major disaster exists in the State of Hawaii and ordered Federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the areas affected by wildfires beginning on August 8, 2023, and continuing.”
At least 53 people have been killed in Maui County as wildfires have spread across parts of the island, officials said on Thursday.
The assistance announced by Biden includes grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses and other programs to help people and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster, according to the White House statement.
Federal funding is available to state and eligible local governments and certain private non-profit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for debris removal and emergency protective measures in Maui County and assistance for emergency protective measures for Hawaii County.
Maona N Ngwira of FEMA has been appointed to coordinate Federal recovery operations in the affected areas, according to the White House statement.
The US Coast Guard said it rescued 17 survivors and assisted in recovering 40 others off the shore of Lahaina as wildfires have swept across Maui since Tuesday, CNN reported.
Captain Aja Kirksey, commander of the Honolulu sector of the US Coast Guard, said, “On Tuesday night, as the Lahaina brush fire really rapidly spread west and engulfed the downtown Lahaina area, the Coast Guard began receiving reports of people who had to flee the flames and the smoke all the way down to shore line and ultimately into the water off of Lahaina.”
She said, “Initial reports of people in the water were around a hundred.” The people who have been rescued by the guard have been taken to Coast Guard Station Maui. Kirksey said 40 others were taken to a nearby area for further action, according to a CNN report.
Kirksey said that helicopters were not able to make water approaches due to the extremely low visibility. She added that boats were able to reach uninjured survivors. She further said the Coast Guard also received “some support from several good Samaritans in that area.” Kirksey stated that the search-and-rescue response remains the top priority for the Coast Guard.
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