Standing beside what was left of a Maui town’s historic banyan tree, President Joe Biden pledged to continue to deliver on recovery efforts for the community recently devastated by deadly wildfires.
“For the people of Hawaii, we’re with you for as long as it takes, I promise you,” Biden said Monday, after touring the devastation left in the wake of the fires that ripped through Lahaina on Aug. 8.
“The country grieves with you, stands with you and will do everything possible to help you recover and rebuild and respect cultural traditions in the rebuilding taking place,” Biden said.
The fires, which have left at least 114 people dead and hundreds still missing, ravaged the historic town, and rebuilding is expected to take years. Biden has come under scrutiny for his response to the disaster, which critics have said was too slow. Biden’s visit was delayed, he said, out of concern that he would “get in the way,” of the ongoing search-and-rescue and recovery efforts.
But the president’s response seemed to be met with satisfaction by Hawaiian officials, who thanked Biden on Monday for sending federal assistance.
“The President within six hours, six hours met our needs with the federal movement. I don’t think that’s ever happened before,” Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said.
“Mr. President, you and Vice President Kamala Harris were among the first people to call me in the early days of this growing disaster,” Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) added.
Hawaii has endured hurricanes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said, “but we’ve never seen such a robust federal response. Thank you.”
Rep. Jill Tokuda (D-Hawaii) thanked Biden and First Lady Jill Biden for the “love and aloha” they had shown the community “from the very beginning.”
“This is a national disaster. It will demand a national response,” Tokuda said. “You being here with us connecting with our community makes that absolutely clear.”