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In the United States of America, no one state is on its own. No one state has to weather disasters alone. No one state is an island cut off from the resources and reassurances of the larger nation, even when a state is itself a group of islands.
As Hawaiians continue to reel in the smoldering wake of one of the deadliest wildfires in U.S. history, these fellow Americans are far from Maine but squarely in our hearts and minds. Even as we sadly have come to expect climate change-fueled disasters, the horrific blaze that engulfed the island of Maui, particularly the historic area of Lahaina, has been unimaginable. At least 111 people have died and more than 1,000 people remain missing as of Thursday.
The ongoing search and identification process is both painstaking and painful. Again, the loss of life and the devastation caused is unimaginable.
We have no trouble imagining how the rest of the country must continue to respond, however.
Ongoing efforts from the Red Cross and other organizations like the Maui Food Bank, the Maui United Way, and the Hawaii Community Foundation and its Maui Strong fund, have and must continue to receive support from Americans across the country. And some federal relief through FEMA has already been announced.
But, as with other recent natural disasters, the most significant and necessary support will come in the form of a larger aid package from Congress. Even before this wildfire, President Joe Biden and his administration were looking for additional disaster relief funding from lawmakers. That ask from the Biden administration of more than $12 billion will surely grow given the more recent devastation in Hawaii, but political uncertainty is already swirling with more aid for Ukraine also included in the overall package. There is much work for lawmakers to do, and fast, to resolve this uncertainty when they return from their August recess.
We’ll point to the recent comments from Biden’s former boss, Barack Obama. The former president grew up in Hawaii and implored people on Tuesday to go beyond thoughts and prayers for the state, to take action and support the relief and rebuilding efforts.
“As someone who grew up in Hawaii, as someone who has taken my family to enjoy the incredible beauty of that island and the hospitality of the people of Lahaina, we now find ourselves mourning the lives that are lost and our thoughts and prayers go out to the families that have lost so much,” Obama said. “The thing about it is though, thoughts and prayers in a moment like this are not enough.”
Through all the pain in Lahaina and elsewhere in Hawaii, this should be painfully obvious. The U.S. government must put massive resources behind the general outpouring of support, and members of Congress and the administration must put politics aside to quickly pass this relief and not allow it to be caught up in other disagreements.
Hawaii may be a group of islands in the Pacific, but they must not be isolated in this recovery. They are not alone.