President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden will visit Hawaii for the first time since severe wildfires left more than 100 residents dead. The visit also comes amid criticism from both sides of the aisle that Biden has been publicly quiet toward Hawaii and its residents.
During the visit, the president and first lady are expected to meet emergency responders, survivors and community members, as well as federal, state and local officials, and survey the area devastated by deadly wildfires, which killed 114 people, according to a White House official.
The first couple will arrive in Maui in the morning and will take an aerial tour on helicopters of the impacted areas before landing near Lahaina. They will then visit Lahaina to see the wildfire damage firsthand and receive a briefing from the state and local officials.
‘Following the tour, the President will deliver remarks paying respects to the lives lost and reflecting on the tragic, lasting impacts of these wildfires on survivors and the community. In his remarks, he will announce the appointment of FEMA Region 9 Administrator Bob Fenton as the Chief Federal Response Coordinator to oversee a long-term coordinated federal recovery effort,’ the White House said in a statement.
The White House described Fenton as ‘one of the nation’s most experienced disaster response-and-recovery officials who has been on the ground in Hawaii from the day the wildfires started.’
Biden has tasked Fenton with overseeing Hawaii’s recovery, which includes rebuilding the devastated community and ensuring that it has access to everything the federal government can offer to expedite the process.
Following a speech, the President and the First Lady will meet with survivors, first responders, community members and other officials and volunteers who are supporting the recovery efforts.
The visit comes amid scrutiny from Republicans and Democrats over how President Biden has responded to the deadly fires.
The criticism started after the President — who was vacationing on a Delaware beach — was asked about Hawaii’s rising death toll and said he had ‘no comment.’
The remark was widely condemned as dismissive of the struggle Hawaiians were enduring.
Maui County and the Maui Police Department on Sunday confirmed that 114 people died in the devastating wildfires, but that number could increase as investigators continue to search the area.
‘More than 1,000 are unaccounted for, about 1,050,’ Hawaii governor Josh Green told CBS News on Sunday. ‘It will take several weeks still.’
The Associated Press contributed to this report.