HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, said Sunday it’s important for President Joe Biden to see first-hand the devastation in Lahaina.
“To be affected in the same way that it affected a lot of us across the state, which is the most heartbreaking thing you have ever seen,” Schatz said during an interview on HNN’s Sunrise.
Biden will visit Maui on Monday to meet with survivors and local officials.
Schatz said the Lahaina disaster is unprecedented.
“We’ve had floods and hurricanes and even some wildfires, and certainly volcanic eruptions, and all of those are their own kind of tragedy. But this is in its own category in terms of the death toll, but also in terms of the property damage,” Schatz said.
“And so the full mobilization of the federal government is necessary. That’s where we are getting so far, but my main thing is I don’t want people to forget us once the attention span of the nation moves to the next thing. We are going to need help for a very long time.”
More than 1,000 federal personnel from FEMA, the military, Small Business Administration and other agencies are on Maui helping survivors.
At least $7 million in assistance has gone to 2,200 households.
Schatz said any fallout from other natural disasters will not impact federal aid to Maui.
“There’s been a robust federal response, we’re going to continue to ask for more, we think we will continue to get more but Hurricane Hilary, and we pray that it’s as mild as possible on the West Coast of the United States will not divert any resources from Hawaii,” Schatz said.
To help survivors take advantage of the federal resources, Schatz’s office released an online guide with information on how to apply for a long list of aid programs. Access it here.
Residents can also find details on mail service, replacing personal documents and identification, resources to help find missing persons, and the latest on air travel and school closures.
At least 6,000 people affected by the Maui wildfires have applied for federal relief so far. Those without internet access or have limited English language skills may have difficulty getting federal aid. Schatz said between 75 and 100 FEMA workers are individually enlisting victims in person.
Although many people lost their IDs in the fire, Schatz said there are alternatives to verify their identities and sign them up.
Other major concerns are the long-term health of first responders and the cleanup.
Anyone that returns to a wildfire impact area should take proper precautions. Caution is urged in the area due to potentially toxic ash, dangerous debris, and unstable structures. Personal protective equipment including tight-fitting respirator masks should be used while in the area.
“Once the search and recovery piece is over, then FEMA with the Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA are going to come in and do debris removal, but you can’t just get heavy equipment and start digging stuff up, you need to assess the hazardous material, figure out what your plan is,” he said.
“What happens with all of that waste? I’m very hopeful that it doesn’t have to be in a Maui landfill, I don’t think we have the space for it and I am hoping we can ship it all away,” Schatz said.
Those who sustained losses in the wildfire can apply for assistance by registering online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov, by calling 1-800-621- 3362 or using the FEMA App. Survivors can also visit FEMA’s Joint Disaster Recovery Center at UH Maui College from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.
Rocio Trasancos contributed to this article.
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