Biden Visits Hawaii as Wildfire Rescue Efforts Continue

Emel Akan
By Emel Akan
August 21, 2023Executive Branch

President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden traveled to the Hawaiian island of Maui on Aug. 21 to assess the damage caused by deadly wildfires that ravaged the island earlier this month.

Nearly two weeks have passed since the island was hit by the devastating fire, which is believed to be the deadliest in the United States in more than a century.

The president and first lady took an aerial flyover of the fire wreckage and a walking tour of the historic town of Lahaina to see the damage firsthand. They also spoke with survivors and first responders.

“For as long as it takes, we’re going to be with you, the whole country will be with you,” Mr. Biden said during a speech in Maui.

“We’re going to rebuild the way the people of Maui want to build.”

The president is visiting at a time when emotions are running high on the island, with the death toll reaching at least 114 and criticism mounting over the Biden administration’s response to the historic disaster.

Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen announced on Facebook on Aug. 21 that 850 people are still missing as search and rescue efforts continue.

“We are both saddened and relieved about these numbers,” Mr. Bissen said. “As we continue the recovery process, the number identified will rise, and the number of missing may decrease. But there will be daily fluctuations in the numbers as family members are added and removed from the list.”

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the search for remains in Maui County was 78 percent complete as of Aug. 20.

Hawaii Gov. Josh Green voiced concern about recovering the bodies of those who were killed in the fires during an interview with CBS News’ “Face the Nation” on Aug. 20.

“We do have extreme concerns that, because of the temperature of the fire, the remains of those who have died, in some cases, may be impossible to recover meaningfully,” Mr. Green said. “So there are going to be people that are lost forever.”

More than 1,000 federal personnel are on the ground in Maui, providing critical support, including search and rescue operations, victim identification, and distribution of essential supplies, according to the White House.

Biden visits Hawaii
Marine One, carrying President Joe Biden, flies above wildfire damage in Lahaina on the island of Maui, in Hawaii on Aug. 21, 2023. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

So far, the Biden administration has approved more than $8 million in assistance for nearly 2,500 households on the island, including about $3 million in initial rental assistance.

“My heart, my prayers, and my focus are on the victims of the Maui wildfires and their families,” Mr. Biden said on Aug. 20 in a statement issued in advance of his travel.

“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.”

As part of the administration’s response efforts, Mr. Biden named FEMA Region 9 Administrator Bob Fenton as the chief federal response coordinator for Maui to oversee the long-term recovery and rebuilding efforts.

The wildfires, which started on Aug. 8, have left communities reeling from shock and grief, as well as doubts about the effectiveness of response measures.

“We’re not very political people. We really don’t go one way or the other, but Biden has really failed us,” Mike Cicchino, one of the Hawaii residents, told NewsNation.

The government, he argued, must be more transparent.

Mr. Cicchino and his wife leaped into the water and spent more than three hours amid crashing waves to escape the fire in Lahaina.

“FEMA is giving some people $700. We didn’t get $700, and we’re not complaining about that. But giving people just $700 to survive when they just lost everything, their clothes, their family members, is insulting. People need more help,” he added.

The fires have sparked concerns about accountability and disaster response methods.

The Biden administration has promised billions to help Hawaii rebuild. However, it hasn’t yet committed to a federal investigation into the causes of the disaster, despite repeated calls for accountability.

The state’s emergency management agency refused to activate the numerous warning sirens installed around the island to inform Lahaina residents about the fire that ravaged their communities. Additionally, a state official’s decision to withhold water until it was too late hampered firefighting efforts.

Hawaiian utility companies have also come under fire for neglecting to take appropriate measures and inadequately investing in fire prevention, despite prior warnings. The power providers in Hawaii are currently the target of a class-action lawsuit because of their failure to deactivate the island’s power grid despite warnings about high winds from Hurricane Dora.

The president and first lady took a break from their vacation in Lake Tahoe this week to fly to Maui. They’re staying at a residence owned by Tom Steyer, the billionaire climate advocate who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020 but lost to Mr. Biden.

Accompanying them are several family members, including the president’s son, Hunter Biden.

From The Epoch Times

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