President Joe Biden traveled to the ruins of fire-ravaged Maui on Monday to examine the damage caused by an inferno over a week ago and assess the government’s response, which some locals initially believed was inadequate.
Biden’s trip took him to the location of the most fatal American wildfire in over a century. His initial response to those Maui wild fires was met with criticism, particularly from Republicans, who used 4-5 days of silence between his first comment on the cause and his next public statement about the tragedy.
During the visit, the president expressed his hope that the federal government would assist in their recovery, pointing to the Lahaina banyan tree’s burning branches.
Despite being burned down, the trees have survived and are still standing, according to Biden. He believes this symbol is a powerful representation of what can and will be done to overcome this crisis.
The death toll of at least 115 is expected to rise as emergency responders and cadaver dogs continue to search for victims in an area where about 850 people are still missing, according to Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen. Biden also appointed a senior federal emergency official to oversee long-term recovery efforts during his visit.
Upon arrival, Biden boarded Marine One to take an aerial view of the fire debris and visit the historic town of Lahaina to see firsthand what had been done.
In Hawaii’s Lahaina, Governor Josh Green and the First Lady of Hawaii Jaime Green visit with President Joe Biden and Jill Bidon.
Biden, wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses, strolled down Lahaina’s main Front Street, past burnt out trees and destroyed buildings. He received initial comments from FEMA officials and walked towards retrace to address dozens of people who were walking towards them at one point. At one moment, he looked into burned-out vehicles that lined the street.
Biden emphasized his concern for the needs and desires of the community, which has been a topic of interest since the town was destroyed by fires. He promised on Monday that the federal government would assist local officials in rebuilding the Mauian community’s desire to live again.
Prior to the speech, the president characterized the devastation he had witnessed as “overwhelming,” but did not elaborate on the hundreds of people who remain missing.
He stated that he could relate to the emotions experienced by many in the town and community, after being informed about the deaths of his wife and daughter by a “young first responder” in 1972.
He remarked that knowing someone is gone and worrying about whether they can come back are two completely different things.
The trip provided Biden with an opportunity to express his personal empathy towards the disaster-hit community and dispel some of the negative feedback he initially expressed. As the tragedy unfolded on a large scale, photos of him on the Delaware beach became polarizing and appeared in contrasting media.
Republican criticism was fueled by the president’s response to a question about the death toll during his speech in Salt Lake City last week, which resulted in him refusing to respond. The White House later clarified that Biden couldn’t hear the question and did not address the fires publicly until almost five days later.
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President Joe Biden attends a blessing ceremony with Lahaina elders in Moku’ula.
Despite the situation, Biden was actively involved in handling the crisis and had already scheduled a presidential visit. He spoke with Hawaii Governor Josh Green to ensure that the significant size of his team would not hinder the response and recovery efforts.
In a statement released on Sunday, Biden acknowledged the impact of loss on family and community relationships. He pledged to work tirelessly to aid Maui in healing and rebuilding from the tragedy, emphasizing the importance of honoring sacred places, cultures, and traditions.
Biden has been working to mobilize the federal government and ensure the recovery of Lahaina after the brushfire, which started shortly after noon, by signing an emergency declaration and maintaining regular communication with state officials.
During a news conference last week, Green stated that President Biden would have arrived in Hawaii within five seconds if he had teleported himself over.
The president worked through the ways in which the federal government was providing assistance for Hawaii on Monday, including signing a disaster declaration, sending FEMA supplies, and naming Bob Fenton as the chief federal response coordinator. Felton has been present in Hawaii since the start of the fires earlier this month.
Before Biden’s visit, a White House representative stated that the president has instructed Mr. Fenton, who has been assisting in the response since the beginning, to ensure that every member of the devastated community has access to all available federal government resources to recover and rebuild as quickly as possible.
During their visit to Maui on Monday, first lady Dr. Jill Biden joined Bidon and spoke with state officials, emergency responders, and survivors. This was the second day of a weeklong vacation at Lake Tahoe.
What is the response time for a question?
President Joe Biden and his first lady Jill Bidon fly over the devastated areas of Maui during an aerial tour on Marine One, as part of their response to the devastating wildfires.
The government’s response has been questioned by some on the island for its swiftness.
In the immediate aftermath of the fire, certain inhabitants depended on local boats and vehicles to provide aid. However, more effective support has emerged on the island since then.
Over 1,000 federal personnel were on the scene as of Saturday, and more than $7 million in financial assistance had been given to those affected. FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, who traveled with the president on Monday, stated that search and rescue teams had already swept through 60% of the damaged area before the visit.
The number of people in shelters has decreased significantly, and they are being relocated to hotels. She stated on Sunday that the next step is to focus on debris removal and long-term recovery.
According to Alice Lee, the Maui County Council Chair, as of Monday, “the emergency shelters have closed and nine people are reportedly still in place.” Many have been relocated to transitional quarters, such as hotels, while also switching between individual homes and short-term rentals.
“I’m aware that when you talk to people, they may express disappointment, as they have suffered a great deal. You can’t fault their loss, but there are plenty of success stories,” she added.
In a statement released on Monday, Bissen stated that Maui had over 2,000 federal responders from more than 24 agencies, as well as almost 1,000 personnel deployed by over 20 state and county agencies.
Isabella Guzman, the US Small Business Administration’s Administrator, informed CNN on Sunday that the agency is assessing how its disaster relief programs can be tailored to the Hawaii recovery effort as residents and businesses prepare for the changes.
Guzman stated that the SBA’s ability to support affected communities and disaster survivors requires monitoring while they are on the ground.
According to Criswell, individuals on the ground have expressed their desire to ensure that the federal government supports their vision for the future.
According to Criswell, they want to ensure that they can rebuild as they desire and that the federal government provides them with guidance on their future plans for Lahaina.
On Monday, Biden emphasized that the recovery operation would honor indigenous customs.
He declared that the fire’s origin was beyond reach. “Mahi, people of Hawaii, we’re here for you, I promise.”
This headline and story have been updated.