Hawaii wildfires: Biden lands in Maui, pledges support; death toll rises to 115

MAUI COUNTY, Hawaii — President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden will visit Maui on Monday after devastating wildfires burned through parts of the island, leaving more than 110 people dead and destroying much of the historic town of Lahaina.

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Death toll rises to 115

Update 11:48 p.m. EDT Aug. 21: The confirmed death toll in the Maui fires has risen to 115, the Star-Advertiser reported.

The Maui Police Department identified two more victims of the deadly fires: Douglas Gloege, 59, and Juan Deleon, 45, both of Lahaina.

“It is with a heavy heart that the County of Maui and the Maui Police Department confirms the following identities of the victims involved in the West Maui Wildfire incident,” according to a joint statement from Maui Police Department and Maui County officials. “Our hearts go out to the families, friends, and community affected by this devastating event.”

Authorities said the families of 13 victims have been notified, the Star-Advertiser reported. The families of 22 victims who have been identified have not yet been located or notified, according to the newspaper

-- Bob D’Angelo, Cox Media Group National Content Desk

Biden addresses Lahaina residents

Update 11:43 p.m. EDT Aug. 21: After touring devastated Lahaina, President Joe Biden delivered remarks at Lahaina Civic Center, where he spoke to wildlife survivors and people who had lost loved ones during the fires in Maui.

The president emphasized that the government will help with recovery efforts.

“We’re not going to stop until it’s done,” Biden said. “We’re going to build back better.”

Biden said that Lahaina should rise again in the “way that the people of Maui want to build, not the way others want to build. But you know, it’s gonna be hard.”

“What happened here compares to no other disaster. There’s just no comparison,” John Mills, of FEMA, told Hawaii News Now. “This type of disaster will be incredibly challenging to recover from.”

Following their tour of Maui, Biden and first lady Jill Biden left the area at about 4:45 p.m. local time, the news outlet reported.

-- Bob D’Angelo, Cox Media Group National Content Desk

Biden: Country ‘grieves with you’

Update 7:11 p.m. EDT Aug. 21: President Joe Biden arrived in Hawaii and pledged long-term support for the victims impacted by the wildfires in parts of Maui, saying in remarks that Americans “grieve with you.”

“The devastation is overwhelming,” Biden said in Lahaina, according to Hawaii News Now. “The country grieves with you, stands with you. “We’re focused on what’s next, rebuilding in the long-term.”

-- Bob D’Angelo, Cox Media Group National Content Desk

Biden, first lady arrive in Maui

Update 6:10 p.m. EDT Aug. 21: President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden landed on Maui, where they plan to visit the remains of Lahaina and meet with officials and residents in the area, Hawaii News Now reported.

The president landed in Kahului at about 11:10 a.m. local time and embraced Gov. Josh Green. They were met by the governor and his wife, U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono, and U.S. Rep. Jill Tokuda, according to the Star-Advertiser.

The group then boarded Marine One, which will be used to tour Lahaina’s devastation from the air, Hawaii News Now reported. Maui Mayor Richard Bissen and U.S. Rep. Ed Case were waiting to welcome the president at Kapalua Airport, the newspaper reported.

-- Bob D’Angelo, Cox Media Group National Content Desk

Original report: The president and first lady are scheduled to leave Nevada’s Reno-Tahoe International Airport on Monday morning en route for Maui. There, they plan to meet with first responders, families and community members impacted by the blazes that sparked Aug. 8 and burned through more than 3,400 acres on Maui.

In a statement posted Monday morning on social media, President Biden acknowledged that the recovery from Maui’s wildfires “will be long and challenging.”

“But we’ll continue to be on the ground, providing support to the people of Hawai’i for as long as it takes,” he said.

The trip comes as the president faces criticism over the federal response to the fires. On Saturday, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell said that residents have shared frustrations over applying for FEMA aid, the Honolulu Star Advertiser reported. Online, some have also spread misinformation claiming that Native Hawaiians could lose their land if they apply for federal aid, according to the newspaper.

The president has also been criticized by Republicans who say that he did not say enough publicly after the fires began, The New York Times reported.

In a statement shared Sunday, President Biden said his focus is on those impacted by the fires.

“I know how profoundly loss can impact a family and a community and I know that nothing can replace the loss of life,” he said.

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

Maui County officials said Sunday that the death toll remains at 114 as crews continue to search the damaged areas. So far, 85% of the area impacted has been searched, authorities said.

Several fires sparked Aug. 8 on Maui, fueled by strong winds brought by Hurricane Dora. Three remained burning on Sunday: the Olinda, Kula and Lahaina fires. They were between 85% and 90% contained as of Sunday night.

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