President Joe Biden says he and first lady Jill will travel to West Maui on Monday after devastating fires ripped through the town of Lahaina last week.
The visit comes after Biden replied “no comment” in response to a question from a White House correspondent for Bloomberg asking about the disaster over the weekend.
The visit is planned to happen almost two weeks after the fires began, when at the time Biden was riding bikes and vacationing in Rehoboth Beach, DE.
Since then, Joe Biden has remained tightlipped about the fire to the public and the press. The most immediate response came from the administration as flat condolences.
“He expressed his deep condolences for the lives lost and vast destruction of land and property,” the White House said on August 10.
The same day, the President signed a major emergency declaration to deliver federal aid on top of work underway by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Guard, the U.S. Coast Guard, and other federal agencies.
Joe Biden Responds to Criticism
On Tuesday, Joe Biden dismissed criticism of his lack of action by saying a presidential visit requires a significant security and operational footprint.
He expressed concern that he might be in the way of search and recovery efforts.
“I don’t want to get in the way. I’ve been to too many disaster areas, but I want to go make sure we get everything they need. Imagine being a mom or dad wondering where your child is. Imagine being a husband or wife, mother or father. It’s really tough stuff.”
“You always hear this phrase, and I’ve been to so many disasters in my career, it’s almost hollow, but our prayers, our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Hawaii – but not just our prayers, every asset, every asset they need will be there for them. And we’ll be there in Maui as long as it takes, as long as it takes, and I mean that sincerely,” Biden said.
In an appearance on “CNN This Morning” on Wednesday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre confirmed the delayed visit saying it will “take some time,” as the president wants to ensure that he won’t disrupt the recovery process.
Maui Residents Step Up
While many of Hawaii’s primarily Democratic politicians – the governor and senators – have repeatedly thanked Joe Biden for immediately approving an emergency declaration, residents on the island have been critical of relief efforts.
They claim federal aid has yet to arrive in West Maui. Increasingly frustrated residents said that they were receiving far more help from an ad hoc network of volunteers than they were from the government.
Many Maui residents have launched their own relief efforts, shuttling supplies to the fire-devastated region by boat. For days, a mini-flotilla of aid-laden boats has arrived off the shore of Kaanapali, just north of Lahaina.
“Maui and Hawaii has always been about aloha. It’s a very small community and we need to help each other,” Spencer Erwin, a boat captain, said.
Aloha is the ubiquitous greeting in Hawaii, a word that means love, peace, compassion, sympathy, and kindness, something that seems to be in scant supply from our government these days.
More importantly, aloha carries a deeper cultural and spiritual significance. Native Hawaiians use it to define a force that holds existence together. That spirit continues to shine through in what is quickly becoming one of the land’s darkest hours.
The death toll from the catastrophe now stands at over 100, the deadliest of any wildfire in the U.S. in over 100 years. Over a thousand are still missing. Governor Josh Green commented that he expects that number to rise significantly, possibly double, as search crews uncover more bodies in the cleanup efforts. Authorities warned cadaver dogs had reached less than half the scorched homes and businesses.
Jennifer Galardi is the politics and culture editor and opinion writer for 19FortyFive.com. She has a Master’s in Public Policy from Pepperdine University and produces and hosts the podcast Connection with conversations that address health, culture, politics, and policy. In a previous life, she wrote for publications in the health, fitness, and nutrition space. In addition, her pieces have been published in the Epoch Times and Pepperdine Policy Review. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter.
From the Vault