President Biden flew to Hawaii Monday with FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell to inspect wildfire damage on Maui while keeping tabs on the devastation caused by Tropical Storm Hilary in Southern California and another series of fires that destroyed 200 homes in Washington state .
The events underscored the growing threat posed by the country's climate catastrophes in the West.
Biden planned to appoint Bob Fenton, a veteran FEMA official, as the long-term director of recovery for Maui, where more than 100 people have died and hundreds more are missing.
Alongside his comments, Biden planned to survey the damage and meet with children and other victims who lost family members in the fires.
“We will be there over the long term to ensure there is a coordinated strategic federal response – not just today and tomorrow, but well into the future,” Olivia Dalton, deputy White House press secretary, told reporters on board the Air Force First, “because this is going to be a long, hard process.”
The federal government employs more than 1,000 people on Maui, including 450 in search and rescue. The administration has also committed to spending at least $8.6 million to help individual families with rent and other needs.
Criswell told reporters that she was also in touch with disaster officials in California after a call Biden had with Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday.
Biden, who was vacationing in Lake Tahoe, directed the Coast Guard to station planes in the area ahead of the storm in case they were needed for search and rescue. In addition, teams of federal disaster response teams have been deployed to the state, Nevada and Arizona.
“Fortunately, Californians listened to their local officials and took the necessary precautionary measures to protect themselves and their families,” Criswell said while discussing early damage assessments, which included mudslides and flooding.
FEMA announced earlier Monday that the agency had dispatched two teams to California to manage the federal response and will have additional officers on standby as needed.
The agency dispatched additional teams to assist state and tribal leaders and to provide communications and technical support. The agency said it was stockpiling supplies at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside before the storm.
Criswell told reporters on Air Force One that FEMA is taking a “layered approach” to making sure resources are available in all disaster areas — drawing on regionally based staff and getting help from other federal agencies when needed.
However, she also said the agency is running out of money and some recovery projects have been put on hold as the federal fiscal year ends and the Biden administration is asking Congress for $12 billion more for the agency as part of a larger spending package.
“As we continue to see the impact of these disasters, we need to carefully analyze how much it will take to continue to support the increasing number of these severe weather events with these really complex recoveries,” Criswell said.