Joe and Jill Biden will travel to Hawaii to see the impact of wildfires that killed more than 100 people on Maui and devastated the town of Lahaina, the White House said on Wednesday.
Announcing the Monday visit, the White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, said: “In Maui, the president and first lady will be welcomed by state and local leaders to see first-hand 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 effort.
“The president continues to marshal a whole-of-government response to the deadly Maui fires, and he has committed to delivering everything that the people of Hawaii need from the federal government as they recover from this disaster.”
Biden has faced criticism for his response to the Maui fires, from Republicans prominently including Donald Trump. In a video message, the former president and frontrunner for the 2024 Republican nomination criticized Biden, including when he said “no comment” to reporters last weekend when asked about the rising death toll.
“To say ‘no comment’ is oftentimes fine but to be smiling when you say it, especially against such a tragedy as this, is absolutely horrible and unacceptable,” Trump said.
White House officials have defended Biden, noting that he has been in touch consistently with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Hawaii leaders including the governor, Josh Green.
Biden spoke publicly about the wildfires on Tuesday, after going four days without publicly addressing the disaster. But the president received further criticism for calling Maui the “Big Island”, another name for the island of Hawaii, the largest of the Hawaiian Islands.
“The army helicopters helped fire suppression efforts on the Big Island because there’s still some burning on the Big Island – not the one that, not the one where you see on television all the time,” Biden said.
Biden announced his intention to visit Hawaii but said he would wait to avoid getting in the way of disaster-relief efforts.
On Wednesday, Governor Josh Green said the death toll from the devastating fires was expected to rise but not catastrophically. Speaking to ABC News, the governor said search-and-rescue efforts were ongoing. Recorded fatalities, he said, were mainly near roads by the ocean.
“The numbers will increase, but they will not increase, we hope, to further catastrophic proportions,” Green said.
At least 106 people have been killed by the Maui fires, Green and other officials said on Tuesday.
Crews with dogs are rushing to secure remains, Green said, ahead of possible storms forecast for the weekend. The wildfires are already the deadliest in the US in more than a century, and Green had previously warned that scores more bodies could be found.
“I want the rain, ironically, but that’s why we’re racing right now to do all the recovery that we can, because winds or heavy rain in that disaster setting … will make it even harder to get the final determination of who we lost,” he said.
On Wednesday, Green said authorities had searched 27% of the area affected by the fires. The governor, a Democrat, also thanked Biden for quickly issuing an emergency declaration that provided state officials with more resources to respond to the raging blazes.
Federal officials sent a mobile morgue unit with coroners, pathologists and technicians to Hawaii to help identify the dead, said Johnathan Greene, a deputy assistant secretary at the US Department of Health and Human Services. The morgue unit included 22 tons of supplies and equipment such as mortuary examination tables and X-ray units, Greene said.
Green told Hawaii News Now that children are among the dead.
“When the bodies are smaller, we know it’s a child,” he said, describing some of the sites being searched as “too much to share or see from just a human perspective.”
#Joe #Biden #lady #visit #fireravaged #Hawaii #White #House #Hawaii #fires