Biden arrives in Maui to survey devastating fire damage

President Biden arrives in Maui to survey devastating fire damage: Search for nearly 1000 still missing continues

  • Biden and First Lady Jill paused their summer vacation at Lake Tahoe in Nevada on Monday to visit Hawaii
  • President greeted local politicians with hugs after saying last week he had ‘no comment’ on the inferno’s devastation  

President Joe Biden touched down in Kahului on the island of Maui Monday where he greeted local politicians with hugs, handshakes and condolences in light of the island’s devastating wildfires. 

He and First Lady Jill paused their summer vacation at Lake Tahoe in Nevada on Monday to visit Hawaii.

The president appeared more somber in tone than when he told a reporter he had ‘no comment’ on the inferno’s devastation while relaxing at his Delaware beach house last Sunday.

Biden was met with some protests from local residents who held signs with messages like ‘he’s too late,’ ‘he should’ve been here much earlier,’ and ‘actions speak louder than words.’ 

The death toll in Maui has topped 114 – already making the inferno one of the nation’s deadliest in history – and an estimated 1,000 people are still unaccounted for. Officials are still analyzing the factors that contributed to the massive inferno, including problems with its electrical grid.

Biden will visit with those who lost homes and loved ones during the disaster and be briefed by public officials. The White house said he has continued to receive briefings over the weekend, after Biden issued a series of public statements on the disaster following his early stumbles.

President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden greet Hawaii Governor Josh Green (C) upon arrival at Kahului Airport in Kahului, Hawaii

Biden (R) embraces Hawaii Governor Josh Green (2nd R) upon arrival at Kahului Airport in Kahului

Biden and First Lady Jill paused their summer vacation at Lake Tahoe in Nevada on Monday to visit Hawaii

The president left behind a more tranquil setting – he is renting the home of billionaire former presidential candidate and climate activist Tom Steyer on the eastern side of Lake Tahoe.

He has been accompanied on that vacation by his son Hunter, who has been dealing with the collapse of his plea deal on tax charges, and whose probe is now being overseen by U.S. attorney David Weiss in the role of special prosecutor. 

After taking criticism for his ‘no comment’ while at the beach, Biden has been making repeated references to the tragedy. 

He spoke at Camp David about financial contributions by Japan and South Korea announced at the summit, then boarded Marine One to make his way to Nevada.

‘I want to start by expressing my appreciation for the contribution that your countries have made for relief following the devastating wildfires in Hawaii. I want to thank you both on behalf of the American people,’ he said. Biden also said FEMA was preparing for the arrival of Hurricane Hilary in Southern California.

Biden and first lady Jill Biden take an aerial tour on Marine One over areas devastated by the Maui wildfires

President Joe Biden leaves Lake Tahoe to visit those impacted by devastating wildfires in Maui. Here he departs from Our Lady of Tahoe Catholic Church in Zephyr Cove, Nevada on August 19

Biden is staying at the home of climate investor Tom Steyer. The White House said he is renting it at fair market value

Biden leaves Lake Tahoe Monday morning, then flies to Hawaii, with plans to return the same day

President Joe Biden thanked Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol for their countries’ contributions to Hawaii relief

An estimated 1,000 people are still unaccounted for, and the death toll has topped 100. Biden plans to tour some of the devastation in Lahaina

On Thursday he promised to offer assistance to Maui for ‘as long as it takes’  during a recorded message that aired on ABC’s ‘Good Morning America.’

‘The entire nation is with you as you recover, rebuild and grieve,’ he said. 

The wildfire that broke out August 8 in the town of Lahaina is now the deadliest in more than a century, and the fifth-deadliest on record for the U.S. 

‘We’ll be with you for as long as it takes, I promise you,’ the president added. He noted the federal government has already taken action to send hundreds of emergency personnel and thousands of meals and supplies to the historic tourist town ravaged by flames. 

Before Biden announced his visit, Republicans compared his lack of a visit to East Palestine, Ohio – where a train derailed and spilled toxic chemicals, displacing 100s. Biden had promised to visit the Ohio town but never did. 

Former President Donald Trump and other Republicans tore into him. Trump said he was refusing ‘to help or comment on the tragedy’ and called the moment ‘horrible and unacceptable.’

Search operations of areas damaged by wildfires in Lahaina Town destroyed in the Maui wildfires in Lahaina, Maui, August 15

Biden first issued his ‘no comment’ while while staying at the beach near his Delaware home.

Then while breezing by reporters he made a terse comment, saying he was ‘looking at it.’ 

Back at the White House, a reporter asked Biden at the White House: ‘Can you tell us about your Hawaii trip?’ 

‘No, not now,’ Biden said, before staff eventually announced details.

It call came during a time when Biden might have preferred some distance form the press, following the appointment of the special counsel for his son. 

Biden and the first lady are traveling to Maui on Monday to comfort survivors of the devastating wildfires that ripped through the western part of the Hawaiian island earlier this month, as his administration responds to the devastation whose full scope is still unknown.

The Bidens are taking a detour from their weeklong vacation in the Lake Tahoe area for the day trip to Lahaina, a historic town of 13,000 people that was virtually destroyed by the flames. While there, the first couple will meet with first responders and be briefed by state and local officials about the ongoing response.

They will also view the damaged town, both from helicopters and on the ground, and the Democratic president will deliver remarks paying tribute to the victims of the wildfires, which have killed more than 100 people since they began on Aug. 8.

The president will also tap Bob Fenton, a regional leader at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as chief federal response coordinator for the Maui wildfires, ensuring that someone from his administration will be responsible for long-term recovery efforts. It will take years to rebuild Lahaina, where just about every building was obliterated.

‘I know how profoundly loss can impact a family and a community and I know nothing can replace the loss of life,’ Biden said in a statement ahead of the trip. ‘I will do everything in my power to help Maui recover and rebuild from this tragedy. And throughout our efforts, we are focused on respecting sacred lands, cultures, and traditions.’

Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, said that as of Sunday about 85% of the affected area had been searched and nearly 2,000 people remained without power and 10,000 were without telecom connectivity. Water in parts of west Maui is not safe to drink.

While immediate aid such as water, food and blankets has been readily distributed to residents, Schatz said that cellphones, identification and other documents that people would need to help them enroll in longer-term aid programs were burned in the fires, adding more challenges to the application process.

More than 1,000 federal officials remain on the ground in Hawaii to respond to the wildfires, according to the White House. The administration has doled out more than $8 million in aid to affected families.

Schatz, who will be with Biden as the president travels to his home state on Monday, stressed that officials were ‘still responding to the disaster’ and ‘We are not yet in a recovery phase.’

‘As bad as this looks, it´s actually worse,’ he said in a phone interview on Sunday. ‘What you can´t see is the damage to utility infrastructure. What you can´t see is the thousands of kids who are trying to figure out how to go to school this fall. What you can´t see is the first responders who went into the flames without regard for their own safety and had their own homes burned down.’

While vacationing in Lake Tahoe, Biden has been on the phone regularly with officials to get briefed on updates to the wildfire response, the White House said.

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