Listen Live

Current Weather

Biden heading to Maui to console wildfire survivors


By Steve Holland

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, California (Reuters) – President Joe Biden’s duty as consoler-in-chief will be put to the test on Monday when he visits Maui, nearly two weeks after wildfires swept through the Hawaiian island and killed more than 100 people.

Biden will pause his vacation in Lake Tahoe to fly from Reno, Nevada, to Maui, where he and first lady Jill Biden will take a helicopter tour of the burned-out areas.

They will then visit the devastated Lahaina community to see the wildfire damage firsthand and receive a briefing from state and local officials.

After the tour, Biden will make remarks “paying respects to the lives lost and reflecting on the tragic, lasting impacts of these wildfires on survivors and the community,” a White House official said.

Biden, who is seeking re-election in 2024, has been criticized by some Republicans and others for his initial response to the Maui fires. He went days without speaking about the tragedy when it first took place while vacationing at his Delaware beach house.

The wind-whipped firestorm that raged through Lahaina in west Maui on Aug. 8 killed at least 114 people in a death toll that is still mounting.

The White House countered that Biden has been leading a “whole of government” effort to help Hawaii recover. Biden himself said he did not want to travel to Maui until he was assured that he would not interfere with emergency response efforts.

On Monday, he will announce the appointment of FEMA Region 9 administrator Bob Fenton as the chief federal response coordinator to oversee a long-term federal recovery effort, the White House official said.

Biden also will meet emergency responders, survivors and community members, the official said.

“I will do everything in my power to help Maui recover and rebuild from this tragedy,” Biden said in a statement on Sunday. “And throughout our efforts, we are focused on respecting sacred lands, cultures, and traditions.”

Biden has traveled to a variety of disaster zones, including places struck by hurricanes, floods and tornadoes, since becoming president in January 2021. His visit on Monday came as Tropical Storm Hilary dumped rain in southern California and southwestern states.

Maui presents a special challenge as the remains of some of the victims are still being recovered from burned-out buildings.

Amid concerns by displaced Lahaina residents that developers will seek to buy them out, FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell said on Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” show that Biden will reassure the residents that they will be in control of how they rebuild.

(Reporting By Steve Holland; Editing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Michael Perry)

Brought to you by