Biden visits Hawaii, pledges to support wildfire recovery

US President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden accompanied by Hawaii Gov Josh Green and Jaime Green, first lady of Hawaii, visit the fire-ravaged town of Lahaina on the island of Maui in Hawaii on Aug 21, 2023. [Reuters]

U.S. President Joe Biden on Monday promised survivors of Hawaii's wildfires to help rebuild, nearly two weeks after the fires killed at least 114 people and destroyed thousands of homes and wiped out much of the historic town of Lahaina.

Biden and first lady Jill Biden visited the Hawaiian island Maui where they met with officials, including Gov. Josh Green, and thanked first responders for their work following the deadly fires.

"From stories of grief, we've seen so many stories of hope and heroism, of the aloha spirit. Every emergency responder put their lives on the line to save others," Biden said. "Everyday heroes, neighbors helping neighbors, Native Hawaiian leaders offering solace and strength."

Biden said the country grieves with the victims, and that his administration will do everything possible to help recovery efforts and to respect local cultural traditions as rebuilding takes place.

"For as long as it takes, we're going to be with you," Biden said, standing near a 150-year-old banyan tree in Lahaina that was burned, but was still standing. He said the "tree survived for a reason."

"I believe it's a very powerful symbol of what we can and will do to get through this crisis," he said.

Biden was accused by some Republicans of not doing enough in the immediate aftermath of the fires.

Former President Donald Trump said  it was "disgraceful" Biden did not respond more quickly. White House officials said the visit was delayed to avoid interfering with emergency response efforts, and that the president was in touch with Hawaii officials as the crisis unfolded.

There were signs some Hawaii residents are also unhappy with the president's response. As Biden's motorcade drove through an area scorched by the fires, most onlookers cheered, waved, and made a hand gesture for "aloha" – a Hawaii greeting. But news reports also said a few bystanders showed their displeasure with less friendly hand signals.

Bob Fenton, a regional leader at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was named Monday as the lead coordinator for the federal response to the Maui wildfires, the White House announced.

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