Joe Biden

In Maui, Biden sees ‘long road’ ahead in recovering from deadly wildfires


This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

In Maui, Biden sees ‘long road’ ahead in recovering from deadly wildfires

THE BIDENS IN MAUI. US President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden walk with Hawaii Governor Josh Green and his wife Jaime Green as they tour the fire-ravaged town of Lahaina on the island of Maui in Hawaii, US, August 21, 2023.

Kevin Lamarque/REUTERS

President Biden emphasizes repeatedly that the rebuilding would follow the wishes of the people of Lahaina and lauds the strong sense of community he had seen during his visit

LAHAINA, Hawaii – US President Joe Biden on Monday, August 21, praised the “remarkable resiliency” of the people of Maui, after wildfires killed more than 114 people on the Hawaiian island nearly two week ago, and said America would stand by them for as long as it takes.

“We’re focused on what’s next. That’s rebuilding for the long term…and doing it together,” said Biden, visibly moved after a tour of the blackened city of Lahaina. He added he would make sure “your voices are heard” and respect local traditions.

“The American people stand with you,” he told survivors of the August 8 wildfires, standing alongside Governor Josh Green, Hawaii’s senators and the representative for Maui in Congress. “For as long as it takes, we’re going to be with you.”

Later, Biden, wearing an ornate lei, told a community event attended by some 300 people, “Jill and I are here to grieve with you but also we want you to know the entire country is here for you.”

He emphasized repeatedly that the rebuilding would follow the wishes of the people of Lahaina and lauded the strong sense of community he had seen during his visit.

“It’s going to be a long road,” he said, noting that he had spoken earlier near an historic banyan tree that was damaged but survived the fires.

“I know it’s a metaphor, but that’s you. That’s who you are. There’s no quit in Hawaii, there’s no quit in America, there’s no quit in us.”

In both remarks, the president recounted his own grief when a vehicle accident killed his first wife and young daughter and said he recognized what Maui people were feeling – “that hollow feeling you have in your chest like you’re being sucked into a black hole.”

Green thanked Biden for his help and praised what he called the unprecedented speed of the federal response.

Shakas, middle fingers

Biden, who interrupted a vacation in California to visit Maui, spoke after a helicopter tour with first lady Jill Biden, the governor and lawmakers from the Kahului airport, along the coast to the ruins of Lahaina.

In Lahaina, his motorcade passed blackened neighborhoods interspersed with untouched areas across the highway from the blue sea.

Many onlookers greeted the Bidens with the shaka, a hand gesture of thumb and little finger extended that signals aloha, a Hawaiian word that is often used as a greeting. A handful of other people held up raised middle fingers.

Biden, who is seeking reelection in 2024, has been criticized by some Republicans and others for his initial response to the Maui fires. Biden said on August 10 he would expand federal aid to Hawaii and promised help to anyone who needed it. He went several days without speaking about the tragedy while vacationing at his Delaware beach house.

Biden’s homeland security adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall told reporters that the president had been told that all the remains of people killed in the blazes may not be identified.

She said Biden was always focused on “the human experience” during disasters like this and frustrated by government bureaucracy, adding the president was also concerned about the need to remove hazardous waste from the affected area.

Sherwood-Randall said The Environmental Protection Agency would come and assess what was needed after the remains recovery effort was completed. “Recovery on this scale takes years. It’s not months,” she said.

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell told reporters Monday she has provided Biden with routine updates and he is “satisfied” with the administration’s response. The president on Monday appointed FEMA Region 9 administrator Bob Fenton as the chief federal response coordinator of a long-term federal recovery effort.

The wind-whipped firestorm that raged through Lahaina in west Maui killed at least 114 people and the death toll is still mounting. The number of people officially believed missing is now 850, down from over 2,000, Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen said overnight on Facebook.

Must Read

EXPLAINER: What to know about Maui’s wildfires, Hawaii’s deadliest disaster

EXPLAINER: What to know about Maui’s wildfires, Hawaii’s deadliest disaster

The White House says Biden has been leading a “whole of government” effort to help Hawaii recover, and White House spokesperson Olivia Dalton told reporters aboard Air Force One he approved a Hawaii disaster declaration within about an hour of receiving it. Biden himself said he had not wanted to travel to Maui until he was assured he would not interfere with emergency response efforts.

Biden has visited many disaster zones, including places struck by hurricanes, floods and tornadoes, since becoming president in January 2021. His visit on Monday came as Tropical Storm Hilary dumped rain on Southern California and the Southwest.

Maui presents a special challenge as the remains of some of the victims are still being recovered from burned-out buildings.

Criswell said roughly 85% of the disaster area has been searched, but the remainder includes large, multi-unit buildings that could take some time. –

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.

Summarize this article with AI

How does this make you feel?

Download the Rappler App!