Hawaii’s congressional delegation wants to keep focus on the Aug. 8 wildfires to ensure that federal resources continue to flow to the state.

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Jill Tokuda led dozens of her colleagues in a moment of silence Tuesday on the House floor to honor those who died in the Lahaina wildfire.

She highlighted the stories of Louise Abihai, 97, whose remains were found in the rubble of the Hale Mahaolu Eono senior living facility, and Tony Takafua, 7, who died with his family inside their vehicle while trying to escape the Aug. 8 blaze that consumed the historic beachfront town.

Tokuda talked of the devastation, the ruins that were left behind, the lack of color and the unnatural smell of burned chemicals.

Then, surrounded by colleagues — many of whom wore red in solidarity with Maui, including fellow Hawaii Congressman Ed Case — she pointed to a photo of a banana tree sprouting up from the rubble, a symbol, she said, of the community’s vigor.

U.S. Rep. Jill Tokuda leads her colleagues in a moment of silence on the House floor. (CSPAN/2023)

“Our people are strong and resilient, they have a gracious grit that has both inspired me and moved me to tears in the face of this unthinkable tragedy,” Tokuda said. “But they also feel justifiable anger and frustration that they are even in this situation and we feel an overwhelming sense of urgency to provide the help, the support and, yes, the answers that they so desperately need.”

“This is a national disaster that will require a national, whole-of-government response. Our strong support for our Maui ohana will send a clear message to every American that no matter where you live in this great country you will not be left behind,” she said.

She then called on her colleagues from both sides of the aisle for their continued support, especially when it comes to providing funding for the ongoing recovery.

“The asks we make will not be insignificant and the support we need will span generations,” she said. “But today I simply ask for your humanity.”

Tokuda’s floor speech comes at a critical time in Washington.

President Joe Biden has asked Congress for $16 billion in new disaster relief aid to help communities like those on Maui recover from natural disasters, such as floods, fires and hurricanes. But infighting within the GOP over a connected proposal to provide more aid to Ukraine in its war against Russia has stymied efforts to approve those funds.

Republicans in the House are similarly threatening a government shutdown if they don’t get their way on certain budget matters in the coming year. The federal government is expected to run out of money on Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year, if a budget deal is not reached before then.

Hawaii’s congressional delegation has repeatedly stressed the importance of keeping the nation’s attention on Maui and the devastation that was caused by the fires.

Both U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono took to the Senate floor last week to talk about the devastation, which left at least 115 dead and thousands more homeless, and plead for continued federal support.

In a previous interview with Civil Beat, Schatz said it’s critical to keep Maui in the public consciousness and to make sure that his colleagues, even those who might be seeking to score political points through congressional inquiries into the Biden administration’s response, stay engaged.

“Everybody ought to keep caring about Maui, and that’s a good thing,” he said. “One of my ongoing concerns is what happens when the Lahaina fires fall out of the national headlines.”

Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by grants from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation.

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