Biden tells Hawaii that the US ‘grieves with you’ as he surveys Maui wildfire devastation

President praised the residents of Hawaii for showing ‘absolute incredible courage’ in the face of tragedy

Graeme Massie
Los Angeles
Tuesday 22 August 2023 02:00 BST
President Biden and First Lady arrive in Maui

Joe Biden told Hawaii that the rest of the United States “grieves with you” as he and the first lady surveyed the devastation of the Maui wildfires.

Mr Biden, who has been criticised for his administration’s response to the historic blaze, met with first responders in Lahaina before making remarks next to the famed and still-standing banyan tree.

“The country grieves with you, stands with you and will help do everything to help you rebuild,” the president said.

Mr Biden praised the people of Hawaii for showing “Absolute incredible courage” in the face of the state’s worst-ever natural disaster and pointed out the banyan tree.

“Today it is burned but it is still standing. The tree survived for a reason and I believe it is a powerful symbol of what we can and will do to get through this crisis. The whole country is with you… we will rebuild it the way the people of Maui want it built not other people want it built.”

And he added: “Fire cannot reach its roots…That’s Maui, that’s America, and to the people of Hawaii we are with you for as long as it takes, I promise you.”

Mr Biden seemingly addressed reports that real estate developers have been calling survivors to try and buy their destroyed properties.

“We are focused on what’s next, rebuilding for the long term and doing it together, to rebuild the way we want to rebuild by making sure your voices are heard and respecting your traditions.”

Joe Biden visits an area devastated by wildfires in Lahaina
Joe Biden visits an area devastated by wildfires in Lahaina (AFP via Getty Images)

The death toll from the wildfires has now reached 114 as first responders continue to search for 1,000 missing in the fire-ravaged landscape.

An early estimate suggests that nearly 3,000 homes and buildings burned to the ground or were damaged, and losses are around $6bn.

Mr Biden also said that he was no stranger to grief, and recalled the phone call he received after his first wife and young daughter were killed in a car crash.

The president said that it was not until he reached the hospital that he found out that his two sons had survived the fatal accident.

Biden recalled his own family tragedies as he empathised with grieving families in Hawaii
Biden recalled his own family tragedies as he empathised with grieving families in Hawaii (AFP via Getty Images)

“The difference between knowing if someone is gone or if they are available to come back are two different things, he said.

“I know the feeling that many of the people in this town and community have, this hollow feeling you have in your chest as if you have been sucked into a black hole, will I survive this? I remember.”

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