The Bidens landed around 5 p.m. ET, and were greeted by Hawaii Gov. Josh Green and first lady Jaime Green, along with Democratic Sens. Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono and Democratic Rep. Jill Tokuda.
The visit to the town of Lahaina, to meet with residents, first responders, and state and local officials, comes during the Bidens’ weeklong vacation in the Lake Tahoe area.
The president’s visit comes as 850 people are believed to be missing in connection with the deadly wildfires, Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen said in an overnight post on Instagram and Facebook.
At least 114 people died in the wildfires, Bissen said. Of the victims, 27 have been identified, with families of 11 of them notified. More than 1,285 people have been located safe, he said.
In a statement ahead of his trip, Biden said, “I know how profoundly loss can impact a family and a community and I know nothing can replace the loss of life. 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.”
Biden has been in close contact with Hawaii’s governor since the onset of fires and has received regular briefings from the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Deanne Criswell, and Homeland Security adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall, the White House said in a release.
Biden signed a major disaster declaration for the state this month that made federal aid funding available to help Maui County residents recover.
As of Sunday, more than 1,000 federal personnel were on the ground assisting residents, including almost 450 search and rescue team members, the White House said. The administration has also approved more than $8 million in assistance to almost 2,500 households, including almost $3 million in initial rental assistance. FEMA has made more than 50,000 meals, 20,000 gallons of water, 5,000 cots and 10,000 blankets and shelter supplies available to the county government for distribution, the release said.
Prior to Biden’s visit to Maui, Republicans had criticized the president for his silence on the devastating wildfires, although Biden had addressed the wildfires during a speech in Salt Lake City this month. The president also addressed the catastrophe in remarks in Milwaukee last week, saying of the timing of his trip that he hadn’t wanted “to get in the way” of the response efforts.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre announced the Bidens’ travel to Maui last week “to see firsthand the impacts of the wildfires and the devastating loss of life and land that has occurred on the island, as well as discuss the next steps in the recovery effort.”
In addition to Green, Biden has been in contact with Criswell, Hirono and Schatz, the White House said.
POST AUTHOR: Summer Concepcion and Molly Roecker and David Douglas and Steve Patterson and Zoë Richards