September 23, 2023

By SEUNG MIN KIM (Related Press)

KAHULUI, Hawaii, (AP) — President Joe Biden and first girl Jill Biden arrived in Maui on Monday to consolation survivors of the devastating wildfires that ripped via the western a part of the Hawaiian island, as his administration responds to the devastation whose full scope remains to be unknown.

The Bidens lingered briefly on the tarmac after arriving at Kahului Airport to console Hawaii Governor Josh Inexperienced and his spouse Jaime Inexperienced in addition to members of Hawaii’s congressional delegation who got here to the airport to greet them. The president and first girl embraced every of their greeters earlier than boarding Marine One to get an aerial tour of the devastation attributable to the fires.

The Bidens interrupted a weeklong trip within the Lake Tahoe space for the five-hour flight to Lahaina, a historic city of 13,000 those that was just about destroyed by the flames. The couple will meet with first responders and be briefed by state and native officers in regards to the ongoing response.

The Democratic president will ship remarks paying tribute to the victims of the wildfires, which have killed greater than 100 individuals since they erupted on Aug. 8.

“It’s going to be an emotional day for everybody,” mentioned Olivia Dalton, the White Home deputy press secretary, instructed reporters touring with Biden.

The White Home introduced Monday that Biden has named Bob Fenton, a regional chief on the Federal Emergency Administration Company, to be the chief federal response coordinator for the Maui wildfires, guaranteeing that somebody from his administration can be answerable for long-term restoration efforts. It should take years to rebuild Lahaina, the place nearly each constructing was obliterated.

“I understand how profoundly loss can impression a household and a group and I do know nothing can exchange the lack of life,” Biden mentioned in a press release earlier than the journey. “I’ll do every part in my energy to assist Maui recuperate and rebuild from this tragedy. And all through our efforts, we’re centered on respecting sacred lands, cultures, and traditions.”

Lahaina is a group of “vital historic and cultural significance,” Dalton mentioned.

Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, mentioned that as of Sunday about 85% of the affected space had been searched and almost 2,000 individuals remained with out energy and 10,000 have been with out telecom connectivity. Water in components of west Maui shouldn’t be secure to drink.

Whereas speedy assist comparable to water, meals and blankets has been readily distributed to residents, Schatz mentioned cellphones, ID and different paperwork that folks would wish to assist them enroll in longer-term assist packages have been burned within the fires, including extra challenges to the applying course of.

Inexperienced mentioned Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that “a military of search and rescue groups” with 41 canines had blanketed the affected space.

Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen mentioned in a social media put up Sunday that 27 victims had been recognized and 11 households have been notified of the losses. The FBI and the Maui County medical expert and coroner’s workplace are working collectively to determine the recovered stays.

Bissen mentioned 850 names have been on an inventory of lacking individuals, taking hope from the truth that the preliminary checklist contained greater than 2,000 names.

“We’re each saddened and relieved about these numbers as we proceed the restoration course of,” Bissen mentioned. “The variety of recognized will rise, and the variety of lacking could lower.”

Greater than 1,000 federal officers stay on the bottom to answer the wildfires in Hawaii, in line with the White Home. The administration has distributed greater than $8.5 million in assist to some 8,000 affected households, together with $3.6 million in rental help, mentioned FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell.

Schatz, who will be a part of Biden on Monday, harassed that officers have been “nonetheless responding to the catastrophe” and “we’re not but in a restoration section.”

“As dangerous as this appears to be like, it’s truly worse,” he mentioned in a cellphone interview on Sunday. “What you’ll be able to’t see is the harm to utility infrastructure. What you’ll be able to’t see is the 1000’s of children who’re making an attempt to determine methods to go to high school this fall. What you’ll be able to’t see is the primary responders who went into the flames with out regard for their very own security and had their very own houses burned down.”

Whereas vacationing in Lake Tahoe, Biden has been on the cellphone frequently with officers to get briefed on updates to the wildfire response, the White Home mentioned.


Related Press author Claire Rush in Portland, Ore., contributed to this report.