Biden Heads to Hawaii to Inspect Wildfire Damage – President Biden interrupted his summer vacation on Monday, departing from Lake Tahoe in Nevada where he was spending the week with his family, to travel to Hawaii. The purpose of his trip was to assess the destruction caused by wildfires that have resulted in over 100 fatalities and the near-total devastation of a coastal town on Maui Island.
Accompanied by the first lady, Jill Biden, the President’s visit to Hawaii involves meeting survivors of the wildfires, as well as engaging with emergency personnel and state and local authorities, as confirmed by his aides. Criticism has been directed towards President Biden by Republicans who believe he has not sufficiently addressed the wildfires publicly.
This concern stems from the extensive damage that occurred in the town of Lahaina on August 8th, which has led to concerns over a potentially less-than-warm reception for the President on Maui. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser has even indicated that some tensions may arise due to difficulties in seeking aid and sensitivities concerning Native Hawaiians.
The White House has pushed back against these criticisms, asserting that President Biden has maintained close communication with Governor Josh Green of Hawaii and Deanne Criswell, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The President held conversations with Governor Green and Mayor Richard T. Bissen Jr. of Maui County on Sunday, according to officials.
“My heart, my prayers and my focus are on the victims of the Maui wildfires and their families,” Mr. Biden said in a written statement released by the White House on Sunday. “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.”
He added that the federal government would respect sacred lands, cultures and traditions in its recovery efforts. “Jill and I are eager to meet with the brave first responders in Lahaina tomorrow, to spend time with families and community members, and witness firsthand what will be required for the community to recover,” he said. “We will be here as long as it takes for Maui.”
By Saturday, the White House reported that over 1,000 federal employees were present in Maui, with more than 450 of them being search and rescue personnel. FEMA has supplied over 50,000 meals, 75,000 liters of water, 5,000 cots, and 10,000 blankets. Additionally, they’ve offered $7 million in immediate assistance to nearly 2,200 households, serving as an initial installment for a much larger support effort.
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Having arrived at Lake Tahoe on Friday evening, Mr. Biden’s activities have been minimal in terms of public appearances. Apart from attending a Mass at a local church on Saturday evening, he has chosen to stay on the Nevada side of the lake. His accommodations are in a residence owned by Tom Steyer, the billionaire climate advocate who competed against Mr. Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020. While the White House officials stated that the president is renting the house at a “fair market value,” specific details were not disclosed.
On Sunday, aside from the Maui wildfires, the White House was also closely observing another natural calamity. Tropical Storm Hilary reached the Baja California Peninsula in Mexico and commenced pouring rain over Southern California. This occurred shortly after a 5.1-magnitude earthquake occurred northwest of Los Angeles. Aides mentioned that President Biden engaged in a conversation on Sunday with Governor Gavin Newsom of California concerning the tropical storm.