| 22 June 2024, Saturday |

Biden tours ‘overwhelming’ Hawaii wildfire damage

President Joe Biden has toured wildfire damage in Hawaii after scrutiny of his administration’s response to the state’s worst ever natural disaster.

He arrived in Maui on Monday, 13 days after the deadliest US wildfire in over a century, telling survivors the nation “grieves with you”.

Mr Biden and First Lady Jill Biden toured the charred ruins of the town of Lahaina and met first responders.

At least 114 people have died and 850 people are still missing.

Hawaii’s governor has said many of the victims may be children.

“For as long as it takes, we’re going to be with you,” said Mr Biden, who spoke for about 10 minutes amid the rubble. “The whole country will be with you.”

He added: “The country grieves with you, stands with you and will do everything possible to help you recover.”

Mr Biden – who also took an aerial tour – described the wildfire devastation as “overwhelming”.

The president and the federal agencies he oversees have come under fire from Hawaiians who say aid has been inadequate and poorly organised.

Republicans have led criticism of the Democratic president for having been on two holidays since the fire struck on 8 August.

To visit Hawaii, Mr Biden paused his current vacation at Lake Tahoe in Nevada, where he is renting a home belonging to a Democratic donor, according to the White House.

When asked about the rising death toll on 13 August while he was at a Delaware beach, Mr Biden angered some Hawaiians by saying: “No comment”.

The White House has said Mr Biden delayed his trip to the disaster zone so he wouldn’t distract from recovery operations.

The president issued a major disaster declaration on 10 August to expedite federal funding and assistance to the area.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency says more than 1,000 federal responders are now on the ground in Hawaii.

Local officials have also faced criticism. Maui’s emergency management chief resigned last week after the agency faced backlash for failing to activate its alarm system in the wake of the fire.

To date, 27 of the deceased have been identified and 11 families had been notified, Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen said earlier on Monday.

Details of who the victims are have begun to emerge in recent days – they include an avid musician, and loving grandmothers and fathers.

Mr Bissen said that in some respects, the figure of 850 missing was “positive news” because it marked a decrease from the more than 2,000 unaccounted for in the immediate aftermath of the fires.

Family members of the missing have been asked to provide a DNA sample to assist in the recovery search.

Experts have told the BBC both finding and identifying the victims could take months or even years given the magnitude of the destruction and the condition that many of the remains are likely to be found in.