President Joe Biden and first lady plan to visit Maui next week. Follow live updates
Aug 9, 2023, 10:41 AM | Updated: Aug 16, 2023, 6:22 am
Follow live updates about wildfires that have devastated parts of Maui in Hawaii, killing dozens of people and destroying the historic town of Lahaina. The wildfires are the deadliest in the U.S. in more than a century. Videos showing downed power lines apparently sparking some of the early blazes have become key evidence in the search for a cause.
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden will travel to Maui next week in the aftermath of the deadliest wildfires in the U.S. in more than a century, the White House announced Wednesday.
The Bidens will meet Monday with survivors of the fires, as well as first responders and other government officials. They will “see firsthand 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,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement Wednesday.
Biden and White House officials have signaled for days that a presidential visit was in the works as long as it would not disrupt search and recovery efforts. Hawaii Gov. Josh Green has informed the White House that Biden’s visit early next week should be fine.
Gov. Josh Green opened a main road so drivers can travel east to west on Maui during limited hours as of Wednesday.
“We will have, of course, our National Guard responsible on the side of the road so that no one goes into the impact zone,” where teams are still searching for fatalities following last week’s wildfires, Green said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
“What I can tell you is people are holding up,” he said, adding, “We’re just grateful for everyone’s outpouring of support. And though the workload is extraordinary and our hearts are broken, we will get through it. We just are still kind of in the thick of doing recovery.”
Maui County released the names of two people killed in the wildfire that all but incinerated the historic town of Lahaina Tuesday evening, as the death toll rose to 106.
A mobile morgue unit arrived Tuesday to help Hawaii officials working painstakingly to identify remains, as teams intensified the search for more dead in neighborhoods reduced to ash.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services deployed a team of coroners, pathologists and technicians along with exam tables, X-ray units and other equipment to identify victims and process remains, said Jonathan Greene, the agency’s deputy assistant secretary for response.
“It’s going to be a very, very difficult mission,” Greene said. “And patience will be incredibly important because of the number of victims.”
The county said in a statement Lahaina residents Robert Dyckman, 74, and Buddy Jantoc, 79 were among the dead, the first people so named. A further three victims have been identified, the county wrote, and their names will be released once the county has identified their next of kin.
The blaze that burned through the town of Lahaina on Maui last week has killed at least 101 people, Hawaii’s governor said Tuesday, as recovery efforts continue.
“We are heartsick that we’ve had such loss,” Gov. Josh Green said during a news conference Tuesday.
The fire is the deadliest in the U.S. in the past century. It has surpassed the toll of the 2018 Camp Fire in Northern California, which left 85 dead.
A century earlier, the 1918 Cloquet Fire broke out in drought-stricken northern Minnesota and raced through a number of rural communities, killing hundreds and destroying thousands of homes.
The Lahaina fire caused about $3.2 billion in insured property losses, calculated Karen Clark & Company, a prominent disaster and risk modeling company. That doesn’t count damage to property not insured.
The risk firm said more than 2,200 buildings were damaged or destroyed by fire with a total of more than 3,000 buildings damaged by fire or smoke or both. Because so many of the buildings were wood frame and older, the damage rates were higher than other fires, the firm said.
— What spurred the fires? Right now, it’s unclear; authorities say the cause is under investigation
— What is the status of the fires? The county says the fire in centuries-old Lahaina has been 85% contained, while another blaze known as the Upcountry fire has been around 60% contained
— How does the loss of life confirmed so far compare with other U.S. fires? For now, it is the country’s deadliest fire in more than 100 years, with officials saying nearly 100 people are dead, but the governor says scores of more bodies could be found
— How are search efforts going? The police chief said Monday that crews using cadaver dogs have scoured about 32% of the search area, with just three bodies identified so far
— Why did the fire cause so much destruction so quickly? The governor says the flames on Maui were fueled by dry grass and propelled by strong winds from a passing hurricane, and raced as fast as a mile (1.6 kilometers) every minute in one area
— Did emergency notification services work? Officials failed to activate sirens and instead relied on a series of sometimes confusing social media posts; meanwhile, residents faced power and cellular outages
— An electric utility is facing criticism and a lawsuit for not shutting off the power amid high wind warnings and as dozens of poles began to topple; in what may have been one of multiple ignition sources, a video shows a cable dangling in a charred patch of grass, surrounded by flames
The Hawaii National Guard has activated about 258 Army National Guard and Air National Guard personnel to help respond to the fires.
Guard members will offer support to the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency and local law enforcement agencies and help with command and control efforts, Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said Tuesday.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is helping with debris removal and temporary power. The Corps has deployed 27 personnel — active duty and civilians — and 41 contractor personnel.
The U.S. Coast Guard has shifted its focus to minimizing maritime environmental impacts but is still ready to help individuals in the water.
Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team Honolulu and the Coast Guard National Strike Force have established a safety zone extending one nautical mile seaward from the shoreline.
The have also deployed pollution response teams and equipment, including a 100-foot boom at the mouth of Blaina Harbor to contain any potentially hazardous contaminants and material. There are about 140 Coast Guard members aiding the response effort.
Singh said she doesn’t know how many active-duty troops have responded, but said that active-duty forces will be part of the ongoing effort.
President Joe Biden says he and first lady Jill Biden will visit Hawaii “as soon as we can” to survey the Maui wildfire damage.
He said he doesn’t want his presence to interrupt recovery and cleanup efforts.
“My wife Jill and I are going to travel to Hawaii as soon as we can,” Biden said Tuesday in Milwaukee at a White House event held to highlight his economic agenda.
“I don’t want to get in the way,” the president said, adding that recovery work being carried about by emergency responders and search and rescue teams is “painstaking work” that “takes time.”
Biden said he has assured Gov. Josh Green that Hawaii “will have everything it needs from the federal government.”
He offered his thoughts and prayers to the people of Hawaii and pledged that “every asset they need will be there for them.”
Biden has surveyed the ruins of numerous natural disasters, including hurricanes and tornadoes. One place he has yet to visit, despite saying months ago that he intended to go, is East Palestine, Ohio, where toxic chemicals were released after a train derailment in February.
A visit soon is unlikely, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell suggested Monday.
Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said Tuesday that children are among the victims of the fires.
“When the bodies are smaller, we know it’s a child,” Green said during an appearance on Hawaii News Now. “There was a car, we know, for example, that had four people in it. It was obviously a family of four and two children in the back seat.”
Green said the task of recovering bodies is one of the toughest parts of the effort and one of the reasons officials are asking for patience from people wanting to enter the “ground zero” area of the fires.
Green said those in need of housing assistance should sign up with the Red Cross.
He said the state has a contract with the agency set to run for more than six months. He said there were more than 450 hotel rooms up and running and more than 1,000 Airbnbs online with the goal of getting everyone out of shelters by the end of the week.
With the threat of stormy weather this weekend, the governor said there is a open question about whether or not to preemptively power down for a short period of time to protect infrastructure weakened by the fires.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday he wants Congress to help Hawaii by approving a supplemental spending package that includes $13 billion to replenish federal disaster funds “as quickly as possible” once lawmakers return after Labor Day.
Schumer, D-N.Y., said his heart goes out to all those impacted by the devastating fires in Maui, adding that the Senate would “do everything we could to help Hawaii.”
Last week the Biden administration requested $13 billion in overall disaster funds as part of a $40 billion package that includes money for the war effort in Ukraine, which is running into opposition from Republicans in Congress.
Most likely, the request will be considered alongside broader legislation needed by Sept. 30 to keep the federal government funded and avoid a shutdown in routine services.
“We want to get a supplemental done as quickly as possible,” Schumer said on a conference call.
Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian humanitarian aid organization, airlifted 17 tons (15.4 metric tonnes) of emergency relief equipment, tools, and some volunteers Tuesday to help after the deadly wildfires on Maui.
Volunteers with the North Carolina-based ministry plan to help search for mementos and other items that might have survived the fires, the group said in a news release.
The group mobilized equipment and more than 380 volunteers in 2018 to help families following flooding on Kauai.
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