By Nandita Bose
SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) -President Joe Biden on Thursday expanded federal aid to Hawaii and promised help to its suffering citizens as deadly wildfires engulfed the island of Maui, and he expressed condolences for the devastation in a call with the state’s governor.
Biden approved a disaster declaration for Hawaii aimed at spurring resources to allow the island to rebuild, the White House said in a statement after the fire killed at least 36 people as it swept through a historic resort town.
“Anyone who’s lost a loved one, whose home has been damaged or destroyed, is going to get help immediately,” Biden said during remarks in Utah, where he is traveling.
Biden said “we’re working as quickly as possible” to fight the fires and evacuate residents and tourists.
“Our prayers are with the people of Hawaii, but not just our prayers. Every asset we have will be available to them,” he said.
The White House said the order would make federal funding available to affected people in Maui County.
In a call with Hawaii Governor Josh Green, Biden “expressed his deep condolences for the lives lost and vast destruction of land and property,” the White House added.
The declaration will allow affected individuals to apply for grants for temporary housing and home repairs, and allow business owners to apply for programs to recover from the disaster, according to the White House.
Those grants come in addition to current emergency assistance by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the National Guard, the U.S. Coast Guard and other federal agencies, it added.
(Reporting by Nandita Bose, Susan Heavey, Rami Ayyub and Jeff Mason; Editing by Aurora Ellis and Jonathan Oatis)