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What we know about the federal government’s response to the Hawaii fires so far



(CNN) — The federal government has gone into disaster response mode after wildfires destroyed Lahaina on the island of Maui in Hawaii earlier this week.

President Joe Biden issued a federal disaster declaration on Thursday and promised to send whatever is needed to help the recovery.

“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.

Here’s what we know the federal government has deployed to Hawaii in response to the wildfires so far:

  • FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell traveled to Maui on Friday. She said on Thursday that FEMA was providing meals for 5,000 people for five days.
  • FEMA Region 9 Administrator Bob Fenton, who has been working from Oahu, mobilized an incident response team earlier this week to help with the federal response, a White House spokesperson told CNN.
  • Fenton said on Thursday that cadaver dogs from California and Washington were being brought to Maui to help in recovery efforts in affected areas in Lahaina.
  • The FEMA Urban Search and Rescue team is in Lahaina and is equipped to search the interior of burned structures. As of Friday morning Eastern time, the 55 people who had been found dead were all found outside of buildings in Maui because search and rescue teams were not equipped to go into buildings.
  • Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra declared a public health emergency for Hawaii on Friday, retroactive to Tuesday, which gives health care providers “more flexibility” to aid people on Medicare and Medicaid, the agency said in a release.
  • HHS’s Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response also deployed an initial team to aid emergency response efforts, the release said.
  • The Hawaiian National Guard mobilized Chinook helicopters to help with fire suppression and search and rescue on Maui, according to a statement from President Joe Biden.
  • Biden said the Coast Guard and Navy Third Fleet were also supporting response and rescue efforts.
  • The Army provided Black Hawk Helicopters to fight fires on the island of Hawaii, according to Biden.
  • Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said Thursday that more than 100 National Guard personnel had been activated to respond to the fires. “As of this morning, the National Guard has activated 134 National Guard personnel, 99 from the Army National Guard and 35 from the Air National Guard, to assist with the Hawaii wildfire response,” Ryder said. “This includes liaison support to the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, support to local law enforcement, and two Army National Guard CH-47 Chinook helicopters to support wildfire response operations and search and recovery teams.”
  • Ryder added that three other helicopters from the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade had also been deployed to assist, in addition to two MH-60R Seahawk helicopters from the Navy Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 37.
  • The Coast Guard has also rescued 14 people who had gone into the ocean to take shelter from the fire and smoke on Maui, Ryder said.
  • The Department of Transportation worked with commercial airlines to evacuate tourists from Maui, Biden said.
  • Biden’s statement also said the Department of Interior and Agriculture Department were on standby to provide assistance after the fire recovery efforts are completed.
  • Biden’s federal disaster declaration Thursday made federal funding available. That funding includes grants for things like temporary housing and home repairs, low-interest loans to cover uninsured property losses and other programs for individuals and businesses, according to a FEMA news release.
  • That news release also stated that the declaration would open up federal funding to the state and eligible local governments, as well as some nonprofit organizations, for debris removal and emergency protective measures in Maui County, on a cost-sharing basis.
  • The declaration also makes federal funding available for hazard mitigation measures across the state, also on a cost-sharing basis, according to the news release.

This story has been updated with additional information.

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Sam Fossum, Haley Britzky, Cheri Mossburg, Katherine Dautrich and Lauren Fox contributed to this report.

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