Biden heading to Maui to console wildfire survivors

By Steve Holland

The shells of burned houses and buildings are left after wildfires in Lahaina

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, California (Reuters) – President Joe Biden, in his capacity as the nation’s consoler-in-chief, will encounter a substantial test on Monday as he journeys to Maui. This trip follows nearly a fortnight since destructive wildfires swept across the Hawaiian island, resulting in the tragic loss of more than 110 lives.

A sign at the site of the destroyed Pioneer Hotel and Pioneer Theater in Lahaina

Biden is scheduled to interrupt his vacation at Lake Tahoe and travel from Reno, Nevada, to Maui. He will be accompanied by the first lady, Jill Biden, as they embark on a helicopter tour of the areas devastated by the fires.

After this aerial inspection, they will proceed to visit Lahaina, a city that has been severely affected by the wildfires, to witness the damage firsthand and receive updates from both state and local authorities.

At the conclusion of the tour, President Biden will deliver remarks to pay tribute to the lives lost and reflect on the enduring, tragic consequences of these wildfires on survivors and the affected community. This information was provided by a White House official.

Maui children face grief, destruction as schools start up after wildfire

Biden, a candidate seeking re-election in 2024, encountered criticism from certain Republicans and other detractors regarding his initial reaction to the Maui fires. On August 10th, he unveiled intentions to enhance federal assistance to Hawaii and made commitments to aid those in distress. Nonetheless, during this time frame, he refrained from addressing the tragedy for several days while vacationing at his Delaware beach residence.

Maui children face grief, destruction as schools start up after wildfire

The intense wildfire that swept through Lahaina in west Maui on August 8th has tragically claimed the lives of at least 114 people, and this death toll continues to climb. Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen conveyed via Facebook that the official count of missing individuals has now reduced to 850, down from the previous count of over 2,000.

In response to mounting criticism, the White House underscored President Biden’s active leadership in orchestrating a comprehensive government effort to support Hawaii’s recovery. President Biden himself stated his decision not to visit Maui until he was confident it wouldn’t disrupt ongoing emergency response operations.

This Monday, he will formally appoint Bob Fenton, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region 9, as the chief federal response coordinator responsible for overseeing a long-term federal recovery initiative, as confirmed by a White House official. President Biden will also hold meetings with emergency responders, survivors, and community members.

In a statement released on Sunday, President Biden pledged, “I will exert every effort within my capacity to aid Maui in its recovery and reconstruction efforts following this tragedy. Throughout our endeavors, we remain unwavering in our commitment to respecting sacred lands, cultures, and traditions.”

Since assuming office in January 2021, President Biden has visited several disaster-stricken regions, encompassing those afflicted by hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes. His visit on Monday coincided with the heavy rain brought by Tropical Storm Hilary over Southern California and Southwestern states.

Maui children face grief, destruction as schools start up after wildfire

Maui presents a distinctive challenge as the retrieval of remains from the fire-damaged structures is still ongoing.

Addressing the worries expressed by Lahaina’s displaced residents regarding possible buyout efforts by developers, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell affirmed on Sunday in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” that President Biden will offer residents reassurance that they will retain authority over the reconstruction process.

(Reported by Steve Holland; Edited by Colleen Jenkins, Michael Perry, and Jonathan Oatis).

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