Joe Biden caves to pressure after facing onslaught on attacks for Hawaii response

Joe Biden caves to pressure after facing onslaught on attacks for Hawaii response

The aftermath of wildfires in Hawaii with Joe Biden inset

Sam Montgomery

By Sam Montgomery

Published: 16/08/2023

- 17:58

Updated: 16/08/2023

- 18:01

US President to visit Hawaii after wildfires ravaged the Maui resort town of Lahaina last week

US President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden will travel to Hawaii to witness the devastation wreaked by wildfires that killed over 100 people last week, the White House confirmed on Wednesday.

One of the deadliest US wildfires in over a century, the inferno raced from the grasslands into the Maui resort town of Lahaina last Tuesday.

Fanned by wind speeds of 60 to 80 mph, the wildfire spread rapidly, charring a 5-square-mile (13-square-km) area in a matter of hours.

Where the emergency siren warning system remained silent, residents were taken by surprise as the fire incinerated 2,200 buildings and caused an estimated $5.5billion (£4.3billion) in damage.

A view of damage cause by wildfires in Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii, U.S., in this undated picture posted on August 11, 2023.

Office of the Governor Hawaii Josh Green/Handout via REUTERS

Biden has faced criticism from Republicans for his personal response to the Maui fires, including from former president Donald Trump.

In a video message, the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican nomination criticised Biden and specifically the President's decision to say “no comment,” when asked by reporters about the death toll.

Trump said: “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.”

With hundreds of people still believed to be missing, up to 20 cadaver dogs have led teams on a block-by-block search.

An aerial view shows the community of Lahaina after wildfires driven by high winds burned across most of the town several days ago, in Lahaina, Hawaii, U.S. August 10, 2023.

REUTERS/Marco Garcia

An aerial view of a wildfire in Kihei, Maui County, Hawaii, U.S., August 8, 2023 in this screen grab obtained from a social media video.

Clint Hansen of Maui Real Estate Radio/TMX via REUTERS

Governor Josh Green said that the teams have covered 27% of the disaster area as of Tuesday, but expected 80% to 90% of the zone to have been swept by the weekend.

In response to the criticism, Biden said in a post on the social media platform X: "I remain committed to delivering everything the people of Hawaii need as they recover from this disaster."

Biden will travel to Hawaii on Monday to meet first responders and survivors, as well as with federal, state and local officials, the White House said in a statement.

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.


A view of flames as wildfires engulfed the historic town of Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii, U.S. August 9, 2023.

Erin Hawk/Handout via REUTERS

“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.”

A week on from the traumatic events of the wildfire, many residents of Maui are still awaiting news on missing loved ones, and have been kept from returning to inspect their homes.

Kiet Ma, who has worked as a taxi driver on the island for 20 years, was one of the few residents to have been able to return to his home to assess the damage.

His wife Daisy said: “So many years we put our hard work into that house. We have no chance to take anything out. No warning, no nothing.

“Thank God I have my husband and I still survive.”

Though the cause of the fire remains unknown and under investigation, The New York Times reported that the fire started from a broken power line.

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