Disasters & Accidents

US issues federal disaster declaration for wildfire-stricken Hawaii

Washington, Aug 10 (EFE).- US President Joe Biden on Thursday issued a federal disaster declaration for Hawaii, where deadly wildfires have caused widespread devastation in Maui and also affected that state’s Big Island.

Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Deanne Criswell provided that information to CNN, telling that news network that most of the wildfires are continuing to burn out of control.

FEMA is “limited in our ability to where we can put people, because it is isolated as an island,” Criswell said of Maui. “So we’re going to work closely with the state to understand what resources they need and what types of creative solutions we’re going to have to bring in.”

To date, 36 people have reportedly been killed by the wildfires and thousands have been displaced from their homes.

Hawaii Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke, for her part, said officials are very concerned about a new spike in the death toll because many areas of Maui remain incommunicado.

Biden said in a speech in Utah that his disaster declaration will ensure that federal aid flows to those affected by the fires that began on Aug. 8, including people in need of home repairs or who suffered uninsured property losses.

That assistance will complement state and local recovery efforts.

Biden also has ordered the US National Guard and personnel from the United States Third Fleet in Hawaii to provide all necessary assistance to local authorities.

“We’re working as quickly as possible,” the president said. “We’ll fight these fires and evacuate residents and tourists … every asset we have will be available to them.”

The president also spoke by phone on Thursday with Hawaii Gov. Josh Green and expressed his condolences for the lives lost and the widespread destruction of land and property.

With thousands of people, many of them tourists, trying to leave the island, FEMA has moved to facilitate rescue efforts by restricting use of airspace over an area that includes the wildfire-devastated town of Lahaina, as well as over the Kihei and Kula zones.

On Wednesday, the US Coast Guard rescued 14 people who had fled into the ocean to escape the wildfires.

Maui has been the hardest hit of several Hawaiian islands affected by the wildfires, with 11,000 people evacuated Wednesday from that popular tourist destination, according to CNN, and at least another 1,500 expected to leave the island by the end of Thursday.

Airlines are operating very cheap flights and organizing new ones to help facilitate efforts to move people off of that island.

Images show areas completely destroyed by the wildfires, particularly places like the historic tourist town of Lahaina in western Maui.

Authorities say a severe drought affecting the islands in recent months and powerful winds associated with Hurricane Dora caused the flames to spread rapidly into populated areas.

Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, adjutant general for the state of Hawaii, also said the strong winds have complicated the task of extinguishing the flames. EFE


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