Biden heading to Maui to console wildfire survivors
By Steve Holland
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, California (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden’s duty as consoler in chief will be put to the test on Monday when he visits Maui, nearly two weeks after wildfires swept through the Hawaiian island and killed more than 110 people.
Biden will pause his vacation in Lake Tahoe to fly from Reno, Nevada, to Maui, where he and first lady Jill Biden will take a helicopter tour of the burned-out areas.
They will then visit the devastated city of Lahaina to see the wildfire damage firsthand and receive a briefing from state and local officials.
After the tour, Biden will make remarks “paying respects to the lives lost and reflecting on the tragic, lasting impacts of these wildfires on survivors and the community,” a White House official said.
Biden, who is seeking reelection in 2024, has been criticized by some Republicans and others for his initial response to the Maui fires. Biden said on Aug. 10 he would expand federal aid to Hawaii and promised help to anyone who needed it. He went several days without speaking about the tragedy while vacationing at his Delaware beach house.
The wind-whipped firestorm that raged through Lahaina in west Maui on Aug. 8 killed at least 114 people in a death toll that is still mounting. The number of people officially believed missing is now 850, down from over 2,000, Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen said overnight on Facebook.
The White House countered that Biden has been leading a “whole of government” effort to help Hawaii recover. Biden himself said he did not want to travel to Maui until he was assured he would not interfere with emergency response efforts.
On Monday, he will announce the appointment of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region 9 administrator Bob Fenton as the chief federal response coordinator to oversee a long-term federal recovery effort, the White House official said.
Biden also will meet with emergency responders, survivors and community members, the official said.
“I will do everything in my power to help Maui recover and rebuild from this tragedy,” Biden said in a statement on Sunday. “And throughout our efforts, we are focused on respecting sacred lands, cultures, and traditions.”
Biden has traveled to a variety of disaster zones, including places struck by hurricanes, floods and tornadoes, since becoming president in January 2021. His visit on Monday came as Tropical Storm Hilary dumped rain on Southern California and Southwestern states.
Maui presents a special challenge as the remains of some of the victims are still being recovered from burned-out buildings.
Amid concerns by displaced Lahaina residents that developers will seek to buy them out, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said on Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” show that Biden will reassure the residents that they will be in control of how they rebuild.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Michael Perry and Jonathan Oatis)
This article originally appeared on www.aol.com