President Joe Biden is about to put his Lake Tahoe, Nevada vacation on hold to finally visit the wildfire devastation on Maui, with around 1,000 people still missing in the deadliest wildfires in the world. country’s history.
Biden’s journey after a period of public silence where he was criticized for his “no comment” while spending time at his Delaware beach house.
Maui’s death toll has topped 114, and officials are still analyzing factors that contributed to the massive inferno, including problems with its power grid.
Biden will visit those who lost their homes and loved ones during the disaster and will be briefed by public officials. The White House said it continued to receive briefings over the weekend, after Biden issued a series of public statements about the disaster following his initial stumbles.
He will be accompanied by first lady Jill Biden.
Biden and First Lady Jill Biden are expected to fly from Reno to Maui, where they will meet with people affected by devastating wildfires, first responders and those coordinating the response. The trip comes days after Biden’s ‘no comment’ in the aftermath of the fires
The president leaves behind him a tranquil setting. He rents the home of former billionaire presidential candidate and climate activist Tom Steyer on the east shore of the lake.
He was accompanied by his son Hunter, who had to deal with his failed plea deal over tax charges, and whose investigation is now overseen by US attorney David Weiss as special prosecutor.
After being criticized for his “no comment” at the beach, Biden made repeated references to the tragedy.
He spoke at Camp David about the financial contributions from Japan and South Korea announced at the summit, then boarded Marine One for Nevada.
“I want to start by expressing my gratitude for the contributions your countries have made to the relief efforts following the devastating wildfires in Hawaii. I want to thank you both on behalf of the American people,” he said. Biden also said FEMA is preparing for Hurricane Hilary’s landfall in Southern California.
President Joe Biden leaves Lake Tahoe to visit those affected by the devastating wildfires in Maui. Here he leaves Our Lady of Tahoe Catholic Church in Zephyr Cove, Nevada on August 19
Biden is staying at the home of climate investor Tom Steyer. The White House said it was renting it at fair market value
Biden leaves Lake Tahoe Monday morning, then flies to Hawaii, intending to return the same day
President Joe Biden thanked Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol for their countries’ contributions to Hawaii relief
An estimated 1,000 people are still missing and the death toll has passed 100. Biden plans to visit part of the devastation in Lahaina
On Thursday, he promised to offer assistance to Maui “for as long as it takes” during a taped message that aired on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
“The entire nation is with you as you recover, rebuild and mourn,” he said.
The wildfire that erupted Aug. 8 in the city of Lahaina is now the deadliest in more than a century and the fifth deadliest on record in the United States.
“We will be with you as long as it takes, I promise you that,” the president added. He noted that the federal government had already taken steps to send hundreds of emergency personnel and thousands of meals and supplies to the historic tourist town ravaged by the flames.
Before Biden announced his visit, Republicans compared his absence to East Palestine, Ohio — where a train derailed and spilled toxic chemicals, displacing hundreds of people. Biden had promised to visit the Ohio town but never did.
Former President Donald Trump and other Republicans have torn it up. Trump said he refused “to help or comment on the tragedy” and called the moment “horrible and unacceptable.”
Search operations for wildfire damaged areas in the town of Lahaina destroyed during the Maui wildfires in Lahaina, Maui on August 15
Biden first issued his “no comment” while staying at the beach near his Delaware home.
Then, while walking past reporters, he made a terse comment, saying he was “watching it.”
Back at the White House, a reporter asked Biden at the White House, “Can you tell us about your trip to Hawaii?”
“No, not now,” Biden said, before staff finally announced the details.
The call came at a time when Biden might have preferred to step away from the press, following the appointment of his son’s special counsel.
Biden and the first lady are traveling to Maui on Monday to comfort survivors of devastating fires which ravaged the western part of the Hawaiian island earlier this month, as his administration reacts to the devastation whose extent is still unknown.
The Bidens detour from their weeklong Lake Tahoe vacation for the day trip to Lahaina, an historical city of 13,000 people which was practically destroyed by the flames. While there, the first couple will meet with first responders and be briefed by state and local authorities on the ongoing response.
They will also view the damaged city, both from helicopters and on the ground, and the Democratic President will deliver a speech honoring the victims of the wildfires, who have killed more than 100 people since they started on August 8.
The president will also call on Bob Fenton, a regional head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as chief federal coordinator of Maui’s wildfire response, guaranteeing that someone in his administration will be responsible for the long-term recovery efforts. It will take years to rebuild Lahaina, where nearly every building was destroyed.
“I know how deeply a loss can impact a family and a community and I know that nothing can replace the loss of a life,” Biden said in a statement ahead of the trip. “I will do everything in my power to help Maui recover from this tragedy and rebuild. And throughout our efforts, we are focused on respecting sacred lands, cultures and traditions.”
Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, said as of Sunday about 85% of the affected area had been searched and nearly 2,000 people remained without power and 10,000 without telecom connectivity. The water in some parts of West Maui is not potable.
While immediate aid such as water, food and blankets was readily distributed to residents, Schatz said cellphones, IDs and other documents people would need to helping them enroll in longer-term aid programs have been burned in the fires, adding more challenges to the application process.
More than 1,000 federal officials remain on the ground in Hawaii responding to the wildfires, according to the White House. The administration has distributed more than $8 million in aid to affected families.
Schatz, who will be with Biden as the president travels to his home state on Monday, stressed that officials are “still responding to disaster” and “we are not yet in a recovery phase.”
“As bad as it sounds, it’s actually worse,” he said in a phone interview on Sunday. “What you can’t see is the damage to public service infrastructure. What you can’t see are the thousands of children trying to figure out how to get to school this fall. What you can’t see are the first responders who went into the flames with no regard for their own safety and saw their own homes burnt down.”
While lake tahoe vacationBiden has been on the phone regularly with officials to be briefed on wildfire response updates, the White House said.