President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden will visit Maui, Hawaii, on Monday to meet with first responders, survivors and officials – nearly two weeks after devastating wildfires ravaged parts of the island.
Days after Mr Biden faced a backlash from individuals who believed that he had not said or done enough, the White House announced the trip.
“In Maui, the President and First Lady will be welcomed by state and local leaders 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 efforts,” press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre wrote in a statement.
“My wife Jill and I are going to travel to Hawaii as soon as we can,” Mr Biden said on Tuesday in Milwaukee at a White House event held to highlight his economic agenda. “I don’t want to get in the way,” the president said, adding that recovery work being carried about by emergency responders and search and rescue teams is “painstaking work” that “takes time”. Mr Biden said he has assured Hawaii governor Josh Green that the state “will have everything it needs from the federal government”.
In its statement, the White House said that Mr Biden was in close contact with Mr Green, senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) administrator Deanna Criswell, who said they expected “to be at a stage early next week to allow for a presidential visit”.
Fast-moving wildfires in Maui have killed at least 106 people and displaced thousands of others when they broke out on 8 August. Yesterday Maui County released the names of two people killed in the wildfire: Lahaina residents Robert Dyckman, 74, and Buddy Jantoc, 79, were among the dead, the first people so named.
Although Mr Biden declared the disaster a “major disaster” nearly two days after the fires began – to allow Hawaii to seek federal aid – some found his outward appearance somewhat apathetic.
Shortly after the fires, Mr Biden went to his home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, for a holiday and from where he gave reporters vague and terse responses when asked about the death toll or a potential visit.
The White House defended Mr Biden earlier this week by listing all the federal resources and aid that Mr Biden has sent to Hawaii. Ms Jean-Pierre assured reporters that the president and first lady were coordinating a plan to visit Maui though some were unconvinced.
During his speech, the president appeared to stumble over his words when describing how he deployed several branches of the military to support rescue and fire suppression efforts in Hawaii in the immediate aftermath of the fires.
“The army helicopters helped fire suppression and efforts on the Big Island because there’s still some burning on the Big Island, not the one that – not the where you see on television all the time,” Mr Biden said.
Some believed Mr Biden meant to say “Maui” when speaking about the army helicopter deployment and then tried to quickly cover up his mistake.
Though his explanation was awkward, military assets did become available to all of Hawaii when Mr Biden issued a major disaster declaration. Those assets mainly went toward Maui but were also used for fire suppression on the Big Island.
The White House did not clarify how long the president and first lady will spend in Hawaii.
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