LAHAINA, Hawaii OSV News – As the Hawaii island of Maui struggles to recover from horrific wildfires that destroyed historic Lahaina, President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden toured the fire-ravaged town Aug. 21.
After touring the devastation caused by the deadliest fire in the United States in more than a century, the president spoke at a community event at the Lahaina Civic Center, telling survivors of the fires the nation "grieves with you."
"Jill and I are here to grieve with you, but also we want you to know the entire country is here for you," Biden said, adding that the federal government will support Maui's recovery "as long as it takes." "We're not going to stop until it's done. We're going to build back better," he said.
On Aug. 10 Biden issued a federal disaster declaration for Maui and the Big Island (Hawaii island), which also was affected by the wildfires, ordering "all available federal assets on the Islands to help with response."
Under the declaration, the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency coordinate assistance, which can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of a disaster.
Federal funding also is available to state and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations.
Beyond the promise of federal funds to help the people of Maui rebuild, private donations are being raised, including by Catholic dioceses around the country, to help with the island's recovery.
Locally, the Diocese of Honolulu has two outlets taking donations online for relief efforts: the Hawaii Catholic Community Foundation, https://tinyurl.com/MauiCatholic, and the Catholic Charities Hawaii site, catholiccharitieshawaii.org/maui-relief.
Catholic Charities USA also has made an appeal for donations for Hawaii relief efforts on its website: https://www.catholiccharitiesusa.org.
In an Aug. 11 letter addressed to "our Catholic Faithful in Hawaii and Beyond," Honolulu Bishop Larry Silva wrote, "As a community of faith, we are called to come together and provide unwavering support to those who are suffering. It is in times like these that our collective love, faith, and compassion can make a tremendous difference." He said supporting the church's relief efforts for Maui "is an opportunity for us to show our solidarity as a Catholic faith community and lend a helping hand to those who have lost so much."
The Boston Archdiocese, the Los Angeles Archdiocese and the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, are among the U.S. dioceses holding special collections at weekend Masses through August and into early September.
The Archdiocese of Las Vegas Aug. 21 launched a dedicated donation page to support Maui relief efforts at https://dioceseoflasvegas.org/maui.
"Our hearts and prayers join with those who have been impacted by the relentless wildfires wreaking havoc upon the serene island of Maui," Las Vegas Archbishop George Leo Thomas said in a letter to the faithful posted on the site. "As a tightly-knit community of faith, we are called to stand together and provide unwavering support to those who have borne the pains of this devastation. It is during moments like these that the power of collective love, faith, and compassion takes center stage. ... Let our generosity span the distance, offering solace and strength to those battling the flames."
As of Aug. 22, the Honolulu Star Advertiser confirmed the death toll in Maui had reached at least 115 "as authorities continue working to identify the remains of those killed in Lahaina."
The Associated Press has reported that the tally of those still unaccounted for varies "widely." "Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said Sunday (Aug. 20) that more than 1,000 remained unaccounted for. Maui Mayor Richard Bissen said in a pre-recorded video on Instagram that the number was 850. And during President Joe Biden's tour of the devastation (Aug. 21), White House homeland security adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall put it between 500 and 800."
In his remarks in Lahaina, Biden told the people of Maui, "You've shown such absolute, incredible courage, and that's not hyperbole. I want you to know, on behalf of the United States of America and all the nation, the American people stand with you."
"From stories of grief, we've seen so many stories of hope and heroism, of the aloha spirit. Every emergency responder put their lives on the line for – to save others. Everyday heroes, neighbors helping neighbors, Native Hawaiian leaders offering solace and strength," he added.
After his remarks, he spent about two hours meeting face-to-face with attendees, according to news reports. The Bidens had paused their summer vacation at Lake Tahoe in Nevada to visit Maui for about six hours.
Biden was criticized by some Maui residents who stood with signs on the motorcade route he took to tour the devastation telling him to go home and demanding more federal disaster relief.