Skip to content

‘I Know Nothing Can Replace The Loss’: Biden Tours Maui And Pledges Support

A total of 850 people are still missing from the devastating wildfires earlier this month, the Maui county mayor has announced.

Mayor Richard Bissen said in an update on Facebook that 114 people have been confirmed dead and 27 of them have been identified, with 11 families notified. The 850 names of missing people came from the FBI, which combined lists from different agencies, he said, adding that 1,285 people originally reported as missing have been located safe.

The release of new death toll figures came as Joe Biden and the first lady, Jill Biden, traveled to Maui on Monday to comfort survivors of the wildfires that ripped through the western part of the Hawaiian island.

The president spoke from downtown Lahaina, near the banyan tree that has come to symbolize the devastation from the wildfires and the steadfastness and resilience of the community. “Today it’s burned but it’s still standing,” Biden said of the tree.

Shortly after arriving, Biden took an aerial tour of the wildfire-ravaged land in Maui. In a statement ahead of the trip, he had said: “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.”

In his remarks, he stressed the federally sponsored recovery efforts that are currently under way. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) has given out tens of thousands of blankets and meals to displaced people and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development is working with Lahaina residents to move them from temporary shelters into temporary housing.

Biden plans to tap Bob Fenton, a regional Fema leader, as chief federal response coordinator for the Maui wildfires, ensuring that someone from this administration will be responsible for long-term recovery efforts.

The president emphasized that the recovery and rebuilding on the island will be done with respect for Hawaiian traditions. Biden stressed to Hawaiians that the US “grieves with you” and promised help “for as long as it takes”.

Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii said that as of Sunday about 85% of the affected area had been searched and nearly 2,000 people remained without power and 10,000 were without telecom connectivity. Water in parts of west Maui is not safe to drink.

While immediate aid such as water, food and blankets has been readily distributed to residents, Schatz said that cellphones, identification and other documents that people would need to help them enroll in longer-term aid programs were burned in the fires, adding more challenges to the application process.

More than 1,000 federal officials remain on the ground in Hawaii to respond to the wildfires, according to the White House. The administration has doled out more than $8m in aid to affected families.

Schatz, who will be with Biden as the president travels to his home state on Monday, stressed that officials were “still responding to the disaster” and “we are not yet in a recovery phase”.

“As bad as this looks, it’s actually worse,” he said in a phone interview on Sunday. “What you can’t see is the damage to utility infrastructure. What you can’t see is the thousands of kids who are trying to figure out how to go to school this fall. What you can’t see is the first responders who went into the flames without regard for their own safety and had their own homes burned down.”

While vacationing in Lake Tahoe, Biden had been on the phone regularly with officials to get briefed on updates to the wildfire response, the White House said.

Featured News