FEMA boss on Maui aftermath: ‘Nothing can prepare you’

By Robin Bravender | 08/14/2023 04:15 PM EDT

The situation in Hawaii remains “extremely hazardous,” FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said Monday as wildfire recovery efforts continued.

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell appears on a screen as she joins White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre for a press briefing at the White House.

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell appears on a screen as she joins White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre for a press briefing at the White House on Monday. Evan Vucci/AP Photo

The coming days are “going to be tough,” the federal government’s top disaster response official said Monday after spending the weekend in Hawaii.

Emergency response efforts continue on the Hawaiian island of Maui, where wildfires killed more than 90 people and federal and state officials are warning that more tragedy lies ahead.

The coming days and weeks “are going to be difficult as people process what they have lost and what the road ahead looks like,” Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell told reporters Monday. She took questions remotely during the White House’s press briefing from Hawaii, where she has been since Saturday morning.


“Nothing can prepare you for what I saw during my time here,” she said. And nothing can prepare Hawaii’s residents, she added, “for the emotional toll of the impact that this severe event has taken on them.”

As officials have learned what the extent of this search and recovery mission will look like, FEMA has sent more personnel and cadaver dogs into the area, Criswell said.

The emergency response is a “really complicated situation,” she said. The cadaver dogs can “only work for so long because of how hot the temperatures are.” And there are “hot spots” where fire crews are helping to cool down areas so dogs can go in.

Engineers are also inspecting partially standing structures to ensure they’re safe for dogs to enter, Criswell said, calling the situation “extremely hazardous.”

Biden administration officials said they didn’t have any announcements on whether the president plans to travel to Maui. But White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said to “expect to hear from the president on this issue” and that “it is something that is deeply concerning to him.”

Climate law celebration

President Joe Biden is preparing this week to deliver remarks Tuesday and Wednesday to mark the anniversary of the enactment of his signature climate law, the Inflation Reduction Act.

The Wednesday event will take place in the White House East Room, Jean-Pierre said, and Biden will be joined by EPA Administrator Michael Regan, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and others.

White House climate and energy adviser John Podesta and domestic policy adviser Neera Tanden will brief reporters Wednesday, Jean-Pierre said.

Asked Monday about whether Biden plans to declare a formal climate “emergency,” Jean-Pierre said the president has “taken the climate crisis very seriously” and has “called it an emergency since day one.”

Biden also “declared climate as a basis for emergency action under the Defense Production Act,” she said, to jump-start heat pump manufacturing and build out the electric grid.