September 23, 2023

By SEUNG MIN KIM (Related Press)

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. (AP) — President Joe Biden and first girl Jill Biden are touring to Maui on Monday for an emotional day of comforting survivors of the devastating wildfires that ripped by way of the western a part of the Hawaiian island, as his administration responds to the devastation whose full scope remains to be unknown.

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 concerning the ongoing response.

They may even see the destruction from the air and on the bottom, and 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,” Olivia Dalton, the White Home deputy press secretary, informed 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, making certain that somebody from his administration can be liable for long-term restoration efforts. It would take years to rebuild Lahaina, the place nearly each constructing was obliterated.

“I understand how profoundly loss can affect a household and a neighborhood and I do know nothing can substitute the lack of life,” Biden stated in an announcement earlier than the journey. “I’ll do every thing in my energy to assist Maui get better and rebuild from this tragedy. And all through our efforts, we’re targeted on respecting sacred lands, cultures, and traditions.”

Lahaina is a neighborhood of “important historic and cultural significance,” Dalton stated.

Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, stated that as of Sunday about 85% of the affected space had been searched and practically 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 fast assist akin to water, meals and blankets has been readily distributed to residents, Schatz stated cellphones, ID and different paperwork that individuals would want to assist them enroll in longer-term assist packages have been burned within the fires, including extra challenges to the appliance course of.

Hawaii Gov. Josh Inexperienced stated Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that “a military of search and rescue groups” with 41 canine had blanketed the affected space.

Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen stated in a social media publish 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 stated 850 names have been on an inventory of lacking individuals, taking hope from the truth that the preliminary record contained greater than 2,000 names.

“We’re each saddened and relieved about these numbers as we proceed the restoration course of,” Bissen stated. “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, based on 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, stated FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, who joined Dalton to transient reporters aboard Monday’s flight.

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

“As dangerous as this seems, it’s really worse,” he stated in a cellphone interview on Sunday. “What you may’t see is the harm to utility infrastructure. What you may’t see is the hundreds of youngsters who’re attempting to determine easy methods to go to highschool this fall. What you may’t see is the primary responders who went into the flames with out regard for their very own security and had their very own properties burned down.”

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


This story has been corrected to point out that Dalton, not Criswell, stated Lahaina is a neighborhood of serious historic and cultural significance.


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