US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (L) and US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas (R) look on as US President Joe Biden speaks about the government response and recovery efforts in Maui, Hawaii, and the ongoing response on Hurricane Idalia, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on August 30, 2023.
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images
WASHINGTON — The federal government will provide $95 million to shore up Hawaii’s electric grid in the wake of deadly wildfires, President Joe Biden announced Wednesday.
The money “means investments to make sure electricity can continue to reach homes, hospitals and water stations, even during intense storms,” Biden said at a White House event on disaster recovery.
The funding will also enable the Pacific island state to bury more power lines, replace old electrical poles and clear overgrown brush around them, said Biden.
The news comes as Hawaii’s main electric utility, Hawaiian Electric, is facing a dozen lawsuits alleging that the company’s practices were partly responsible for the deadly fires, a claim the utility denies.
The fires on Maui earlier this month were the deadliest U.S. wildfires in over a century, killing at least 115 people with hundreds more still missing. The historic town of Lahaina was destroyed, and Moody’s estimates the wildfires were responsible for up to $6 billion in economic losses.
Fitch, Moody’s and S&P all recently downgraded Hawaiian Electric’s credit rating to junk status, with Fitch warning that the company could face more than $3.8 billion in potential liability for the Maui wildfires.
Speaking at the White House, Biden sought to reassure residents of Maui that the federal government would be with them throughout the recovery process, noting that $400 million in federal funds had been allocated already to help pay for debris removal on the island.
Biden visited Hawaii with first lady Jill Biden last week to view the damage and meet with survivors.
“We saw the magnitude of the loss,” Biden said of his recent trip, “and we’re doing everything we can to move heaven and earth to help recover and return to your lives.”
Biden spoke as Hurricane Idalia roared through Florida and into southern Georgia. Idalia made landfall Wednesday morning as a Category 3 storm, but has since weakened to a Category 1. As of Wednesday afternoon, at least two people had died and hundreds of thousands more were left without power.
Biden spoke to the governors of Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina and pledged the federal government’s support for recovery efforts, the White House said.