UPDATE: Biden says feds will help Maui ‘for as long as it takes’ to recover from wildfire

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden tour areas devastated by the Maui wildfires in Lahaina, Hawaii. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden greet first responders as they visit areas devastated by the Maui wildfires in Lahaina. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden participate in a blessing ceremony with Lahaina kupuna at Moku'ula as they visit areas devastated by the Maui wildfires. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Gov. Josh Green greets President Biden this morning as he arrives on Maui. (AP photo)

UPDATE: 2:14 p.m.

LAHAINA — President Joe Biden today told survivors of Hawaii’s wildfires that the nation “grieves with you” and promised that the federal government will help Maui “for as long as it takes” to recover after touring damage caused by the deadliest wildfire in the United States in more than a century.


Biden arrived in Maui 13 days after the wildfires that have taken at least 114 lives ravaged the western part of the island. Standing near a burned, but still standing, 150-year-old banyan tree, the president acknowledged the “overwhelming” devastation but said that Maui would persevere through the tragedy.

“Today it’s burned but it’s still standing,” Biden said of the tree. “The tree survived for a reason. I believe it’s a very powerful symbol of what we can and will do to get through this crisis.”

Biden and first lady Jill Biden got a close look at the devastation wrought by the flames that ripped through the western part of the Hawaiian island, seeing for themselves the hollowed homes, structures, charred cars and singed trees left in the wake of the blaze.

The Bidens lingered briefly on the tarmac after arriving at Kahului Airport to console Hawaii Gov. Josh Green and his wife Jaime Green as well as members of Hawaii’s congressional delegation who came to the airport to greet them.

The president and first lady embraced each of their greeters before boarding Marine One for an aerial tour of the devastation caused by the fires.

They spent most of their visit in Lahaina, a historic town of 13,000 people that was virtually destroyed by the flames. His motorcade wound through the community of block upon block of hollowed out homes and structures, palm trees burnt to a crisp and endless debris.


President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden arrived on Maui this morning for an emotional day of comforting survivors of the devastating wildfires that destroyed Lahaina, killing at least 114 people.

The Bidens interrupted a weeklong vacation in Lake Tahoe for the five-hour flight to Maui. Air Force One landed at Kahului Airport at about 11:10 a.m.

Gov. Josh Green, Sens. Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono, and Rep. Jill Tokuda welcomed the Bidens on the airport tarmac.

The couple will meet with first responders and be briefed by state and local officials about the ongoing response.

They will also see the destruction from the air 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 erupted on Aug. 8.

“It’s going to be an emotional day for everyone,” Olivia Dalton, the White House deputy press secretary, told reporters traveling with Biden.

The White House announced today that Biden has named Bob Fenton, a regional leader at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to be the 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 before 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.”

Lahaina is a community of “significant historical and cultural importance,” Dalton said.

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 cellphones, ID 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.

Green said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that “an army of search and rescue teams” with 41 dogs had blanketed the affected area.

Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen said in a social media post Sunday that 27 victims had been identified and 11 families were notified of the losses. The FBI and the Maui County medical examiner and coroner’s office are working together to identify the recovered remains.

Bissen said 850 names were on a list of missing people, taking hope from the fact that the initial list contained more than 2,000 names.

“We are both saddened and relieved about these numbers as we continue the recovery process,” Bissen said. “The number of identified will rise, and the number of missing may decrease.”

More than 1,000 federal officials remain on the ground to respond to the wildfires in Hawaii, according to the White House. The administration has distributed more than $8.5 million in aid to some 8,000 affected families, including $3.6 million in rental assistance, said FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, who joined Dalton to brief reporters aboard Monday’s flight.

Schatz 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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Star-Advertiser's TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, email hawaiiwarriorworld@staradvertiser.com.