Joe Biden to visit Hawaii amid criticism of wildfire response


US President Joe Biden apologizes for not mentioning the deadly Hawaii wildfires while speaking in an address in Milwaukee. — AFP/File
US President Joe Biden apologizes for not mentioning the deadly Hawaii wildfires while speaking in an address in Milwaukee. — AFP/File

US President Joe Biden said that he will visit the fire-ravaged areas of Hawaii “as soon as he can” amid evident criticism of his response to the island’s deadly wildfires.

Biden said he wanted to ensure that the people in the state had “everything they need” while speaking in Milwaukee city.

There have been 101 fire-related deaths and 1,300 people are still missing.

Residents of Hawaii have expressed dissatisfaction with the federal government’s response time to the disaster.

While at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, over the weekend, Biden was asked by a reporter about the rising death toll in Hawaii and responded: “No comment.”

The president stated on Tuesday that he has yet to visit the affected areas, as he thought doing so would interfere with the humanitarian response in terms of resources and attention.

First Lady Jill Biden will accompany him to Hawaii, he said.

“I don’t want to get in the way. I’ve been to too many disaster areas,” Biden said. “I want to be sure we don’t disrupt ongoing recovery efforts.”

A total of 500 federal emergency workers, including 150 search and rescue professionals, have already been sent to assist with relief efforts.

Additional personnel are being sent to Maui to help those already on the ground, Biden added.

He said that “all available federal assets” in the region would be used for recovery efforts, including the US military and Coast Guard.

“It’s painstaking work. It takes time and it’s nerve-wracking,” the president said.

Low-interest disaster loans are now being made available by the US Small Business Administration to assist locals in rebuilding.

In order to assist with immediate requirements in the wake of the tragedy, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) has approved one-time payments of $700 (£550) for each household.

“Every asset they need will be there for them,” said Biden. “And we’ll be there in Maui as long as it takes.”

In a video update on Tuesday, Governor Josh Green said he and Biden were speaking “often” and would work out a time for the president to visit once “the heart-breaking work is done on the ground finding those we’ve lost”.

As more dead bodies are discovered in the most severely affected areas of Maui, officials in Hawaii have stated that they anticipate the death toll to grow in the days ahead. Searches for human remains have only been conducted in 25% of the impacted region thus far.

Lahaina, a community of around 12,000 people, lost about 80% of its land to the fire.

On the ground in Maui, many residents told the BBC they have been frustrated at the scale and the speed of the recovery efforts.

One resident, Les Munn, said he had so far received $500 from Fema which is less than the price of a night in most hotel rooms on the island.

For now, he is still sleeping on a cot in a shelter.

One woman in Lahaina claimed she feared starvation in the days following the fire on a street above the fire line.

At her neighbor’s house, one of several grassroots relief supply hubs has been organised, with people already delivering bags of ice, water, clothing, batteries, and little solar chargers.


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