Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy suggested Wednesday that Congress may launch an investigation into the Maui fires as reports critical of the government’s role in the tragedy and its response continue to mount.
McCarthy indicated his desire to get an investigation off the ground while answering questions from reporters after an event in Syracuse, New York.
President Joe Biden and state officials have drawn fire for their response to the tragedy, which has claimed at least 115 lives, with 1,100 people still unaccounted for, according to New York Magazine.
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“Look, we’ve got disasters going off in this country. We saw the devastation that has happened in Maui…I’m very concerned about the response,” McCarthy said. “We still have hundreds of individuals that are missing. I think there’s going to have to be a congressional investigation in response of what happened in Maui. How could we lose that many Americans in today’s age? And the federal response seems very delayed. The president’s response, to have no comment? That’s unacceptable. So I’m going to work with committees too, to look at investigating what went on so that never happens again, as well.”
Pundits, expert former officials and Maui residents have blasted Biden for the federal response to the crisis, which reports suggest has been lethargic. Biden himself took a break from his second vacation this month, leaving his Lake Tahoe, Nevada, rental property to visit the devastated town of Lahaina for a day and deliver remarks.
On the state level, reports indicate that the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources waited for up to five hours to approve a water diversion request that would have assisted firefighters, some of whom said that fire hydrants in Lahaina ran dry. A Maui official, who had zero prior career experience in disaster management, defended his agency’s decision not to sound an emergency siren system before resigning from his post the next day.
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The state also neglected to mitigate at scale an overgrowth of non-native grasses that made large swaths of the island particularly prone to a massive fire, and Hawaiian Electric, the state’s utility company whose downed power line reportedly sparked the fire, seems to have focused more on green energy initiatives than wildfire preparedness in the years leading up to the calamity.
It is unclear which committee or committees McCarthy will coordinate with to launch an investigation, and it is unclear what the timeline of such an investigation would look like.
The White House did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
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