Transcript: Rep. Jill Tokuda of Hawaii on “Face the Nation,” August 13, 2023


The following is a transcript of an interview with Rep. Jill Tokuda, Democrat of Hawaii, that aired on “Face the Nation” on August 13, 2023. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: We go now to Democratic Congresswoman Jill Tokuda. Lahaina is part of her district and she joins us from Oahu this morning. Congresswoman, I am very sorry, as all of us are here for the losses that you all are experiencing. You toured the area yesterday with FEMA, I understand. Do you know when the fires will be out and where are we in this recovery?

REP. TOKUDA : Well, you know, we walk through the streets of Lahaina yesterday, and I can tell you, it’s absolutely heartbreaking. It was shocking. Surreal. We’ve heard all these words, but to actually walk those streets and to still see fires smoldering in the distance to see cars literally melted into puddles that have hardened over on the road. X’s on buildings and cars to say that it has been searched for signs of casualties or even life. We are not- we are not at a point where we can say a timeframe in terms of when people will be allowed back into the area. But what I can tell this- is just I feel the anger and the angst that people want to go home. Everyone wants to go home. There are so many of our friends and family that never left. And that’s what we have to remember. We are trying to respectfully make sure that every person unaccounted for right now- we are praying for their safety that they’re in shelters. But we know that too many are in buildings. You know, Dr. Criswell was talking about the cadaver dogs that have been brought on site, that are going to make the difference. Yesterday, when we were touring there, we met the dogs, we met the handlers. We’re talking about the gridding system, and one of my aides mentioned, because we heard the dogs barking loudly. And she said when she turned to look at them, they were sitting in front of a building and barking. And sadly, we know exactly what that means when a cadaver dog sits and barks towards a point. So every moment every day, right now we have frontliners who are doing so much to bring all of our family and loved ones home.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And Congresswoman, I mean, the state- the state claims to have had one of the largest hazard warning systems out there, something like 80 sirens in the Maui area. How did this system fail to warn those people to flee?

REP. TOKUDA: We know everybody who’s ever lived in Hawaii knows the warning sirens. It goes off once a month at the beginning of the month at 12 noon, and it blares and if it doesn’t, it gets fixed, because that is our first line of defense. Unfortunately, in this situation, sadly, tragically in this situation, those sirens likely did not go off. The warning signals that were on cell phones, we had no cell coverage or electricity in some of these areas. And the reality is with those warning signs, it tells all of us to turn on the television or look at our phones or turn on the radio. The reality is was how fast this burn was. And you could see it in the videos that survivors were showing me. You could see it in the wreckage. If you turned on your phone, you turned on a radio, if you even could. Remember things were out at that particular point, you would not know what the crisis was. You might think it’s a tsunami, by the way, which is our first instinct, you would run towards land, which in this case would be towards fire.

MARGARET BRENNAN: FEMA has estimated the cost of reconstruction will be close to $6 billion. But they’ve also said they are facing a $4 billion shortfall by the end of September. How do you make the case to your colleagues back here in Washington, that with so many natural disasters and so much need in this country right now that Hawaii needs to be the priority?

REP. TOKUDA: Absolutely. We were never expecting this disaster and tragedy. No one ever does. But you heard it from my constituents that have been on air. This is a national crisis. This is a national problem. I cannot tell you how many individuals we’ve talked to- we’ve met. They’re not from Hawaii, but they have been severely impacted. We know at the end of the day, a loss of life will take place not for just for Hawaii residents. But for individuals from across the country that were in this area. This is a national disaster we are facing. And one thing we have to remember too was this is rural America. Rural America is getting hit by these types of climate change cases every single day is disaster. Rural America, which is what Hawaii is, faces a crisis of also being able to get those first responders and support as fast as they need to to be able to respond in these situations. So we have to make sure FEMA has the tools and the resources to execute support back home at Hawaii. But quite frankly, this is going to be happening across the country and they need the money to be able to respond to wherever disaster strikes.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And I know President Biden has asked for another 12 billion to replenish disaster relief funds. This is going to be a continued conversation here in Washington. Congresswoman, we wish you well. Thank you for joining us today.

REP. TOKUDA: Thank you.

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