Joe Biden on Monday made a shambolic tour of Hawaii – in keeping with his tone-deaf and error-ridden first response to the wildfires.
Two weeks after the worst U.S. wildfires in a century, the president and his wife Jill landed on Maui to be met with screams of ‘F*** you!’ as his motorcade passed.
Some were seen waving Trump 2024 flags.
The 80-year-old only compounded the anger by delivering a garbled speech at a charred sacred Banyan tree to speak in meandering terms about his own loss – that of his wife and baby daughter in 1972 – and then reference his own experience of a house fire, at his Delaware home in 2004. His home in Wilmington was struck by lightning, causing a small fire to spark – but it did not spread outside the kitchen.
Biden then made a clumsy joke while greeting rescue teams, asking a dog handler whether his boots were reinforced and noting: ‘Hot ground.’
Joe Biden is seen in Hawaii on Monday, telling an anecdote about a kitchen fire at his Delaware home in 2004
Angry Hawaiians are seen gesturing as Biden’s motorcade passed on Monday
Biden greeted emergency responders and joked about ‘hot ground’
Biden’s visit was always going to be contentious: some asked why he had not visited sooner, while others wanted him to stay away and avoid pulling resources away from search and rescue efforts.
The death toll on Monday rose to 114, with 850 still missing.
Of those 114, less than a quarter have been identified.
Biden was criticized before his visit for failing to give the wildfires sufficient attention, and accused of a sluggish response to the crisis.
Last weekend, when asked on leaving the beach in Delaware for his response to the fires, Biden replied: ‘No comment.’
On Thursday, an emotional Ella Sable Tacderan fought back tears as she told CNN of her family’s anguish.
‘It’s really affecting me because where’s the president?’ she asked.
‘I mean, aren’t we Americans, too? We’re part of the United States. Why are we getting put in the back pocket?
‘Why are we being ignored?’
Joe and Jill Biden are seen on Monday departing Maui after visiting the devastated areas
The Bidens are seen on Monday flying above the devastation of Lahaina
Biden is seen with the governor of Hawaii, Josh Green, and the FEMA administrator, Deanne Criswell, on Monday
The Bidens are seen with Hawaii’s governor and his wife in Lahaina on Monday
Biden is seen looking at a burnt vehicle in Lahaina. The X spray painted on the side means it has been searched for human remains
Tacderan said that the checks of $700 being handed to each affected household were insultingly low.
‘My parents received a check for $700, which was a slap in the face,’ she said.
‘Living in Hawaii, everything is so expensive. Groceries can be as much as $700 just for one grocery run. And it’s not enough.’
She added that elderly families in Hawaii are basically ‘computer illiterate,’ which may explain why some people are being ‘turned away’ on their applications for FEMA assistance.
Some Hawaiians echoed Tacderan’s criticism on Monday, with one holding up a sign which compared assistance to Ukraine and Hawaii.
Ukraine has, per capita, received $1,700 per person, the author calculated, since the war began in February 2022.
Biden and his wife took a helicopter tour of the affected areas before addressing a gathering of local officials, senators and community officials.
People watch as the motorcade carrying President Joe Biden to visit areas devastated by the Maui wildfires passes by. One local gives the president a thumbs down
People hold signs as Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden visit the fire-ravaged town of Lahaina
People watch as the motorcade carrying President Joe Biden to visit areas devastated by the Maui wildfires passes by
The president spoke, as he often does when addressing communities touched by tragedy, of understanding the personal weight of devastating loss and the slow and painful process of recovering.
Biden’s first wife, Neilia, and their 1-year-old daughter, Naomi, died in a car accident in 1972. He lost an adult son, Beau, to brain cancer in 2015.
‘When things look the most bleak, that’s when we need faith,’ said Biden, who spent 70 minutes after his remarks speaking with community members.
He told how first responders supported him after Neilia’s death, and praised those involved in the Hawaii tragedy.
At another stop, he referenced the 2004 fire at his Wilmington, Delaware home.
‘I don’t want to compare difficulties but we have a little sense, Jill and I, of what it’s like to lose a home,’ said Biden.
‘Years ago, now 15 years ago, while I was in Washington doing Meet The Press, it was a sunny Sunday and lightning struck at home on a little lake outside our home – not a lake, a pond.’
He said the spark went through the wires and into the heating ducts, and into the kitchen.
‘To make a long story short, I almost my wife, my 67 Corvette, and my cat.
‘But all kidding aside – I watched the firefighters, the way they responded.’
It is an anecdote that Biden often tells at times of tragedy.
Firefighters arrived to heavy smoke but were able to keep the flames contained to the kitchen.
‘Luckily, we got it pretty early,’ Cranston Heights Fire Company Chief George Lamborn said at the time.
‘The fire was under control in 20 minutes.’
The wildfire that broke out August 8 in the town of Lahaina is now the deadliest in more than a century, and the fifth-deadliest on record for the U.S.
‘We’ll be with you for as long as it takes, I promise you,’ the president said.
He noted the federal government has already taken action to send hundreds of emergency personnel and thousands of meals and supplies to the historic tourist town ravaged by flames.
Before Biden announced his visit, Republicans compared his lack of a visit to East Palestine, Ohio – where a train derailed and spilled toxic chemicals, displacing hundreds of people.
Biden had promised to visit the Ohio town but never did.
Donald Trump and other Republicans tore into him.
Trump said he was refusing ‘to help or comment on the tragedy’ and called the moment ‘horrible and unacceptable.’
Search operations of areas damaged by wildfires in Lahaina Town destroyed in the Maui wildfires in Lahaina on August 15
Biden first issued his ‘no comment’ while while staying at the beach near his Delaware home.
Then while breezing by reporters he made a terse comment, saying he was ‘looking at it.’
Back at the White House, a reporter asked Biden at the White House: ‘Can you tell us about your Hawaii trip?’
‘No, not now,’ Biden said, before staff eventually announced details.
The president has appointed Bob Fenton, a regional leader at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as chief federal response coordinator for the Maui wildfires, ensuring that someone from his administration will be responsible for long-term recovery efforts.
It will take years to rebuild Lahaina, where just about every building was obliterated.
‘I know how profoundly loss can impact a family and a community and I know nothing can replace the loss of life,’ Biden said in a statement ahead of the trip.
‘I will do everything in my power to help Maui recover and rebuild from this tragedy.
‘And throughout our efforts, we are focused on respecting sacred lands, cultures, and traditions.’
Senator Brian Schatz said that as of Sunday about 85 percent of the affected area had been searched and nearly 2,000 people remained without power.
At least 10,000 were without telecom connectivity.
Water in parts of west Maui is not safe to drink.
While immediate aid such as water, food and blankets has been readily distributed to residents, Schatz said that cellphones, identification and other documents that people would need to help them enroll in longer-term aid programs were burned in the fires, adding more challenges to the application process.
More than 1,000 federal officials remain on the ground in Hawaii to respond to the wildfires, according to the White House. The administration has doled out more than $8 million in aid to affected families.
Schatz, who was with Biden as the president traveled to his home state on Monday, stressed that officials were ‘still responding to the disaster’.
‘We are not yet in a recovery phase,’ he said.
‘As bad as this looks, it’s actually worse.
‘What you can’t see is the damage to utility infrastructure. What you can’t see is the thousands of kids who are trying to figure out how to go to school this fall.
‘What you can’t see is the first responders who went into the flames without regard for their own safety and had their own homes burned down.’
While vacationing in Lake Tahoe, Biden has been on the phone regularly with officials to get briefed on updates to the wildfire response, the White House said.