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Joe Biden travels to Hawaii to survey damage and meet survivors

Joe Biden travels to Hawaii to survey damage and meet survivors

Joe Biden is expected to announce more aid money. (File)

Reno, United States:

President Joe Biden traveled to Hawaii on Monday to review the widespread damage from Maui's recent wildfires, meet with survivors and deflect criticism that his administration was too slow in responding to the disaster.

Biden and First Lady Jill Biden will arrive nearly two weeks after fierce, windswept flames engulfed the historic city of Lahaina, claiming at least 114 lives.

The flames spread so quickly that residents and visitors were caught by surprise, either stranded on the road or jumped into the ocean to avoid the worst natural disaster in the state of Hawaii.

After a helicopter tour of the damage, Biden is expected to announce more relief funds and the appointment of a federal relief effort coordinator.

Critics, including disgruntled survivors in Hawaii and some Republicans hoping to run against Biden in next year's presidential election, say the aid has been inadequate and poorly organized.

Former President Donald Trump said it was “disgraceful” his successor didn't act more quickly, even though the White House said Biden delayed his trip to avoid distracting officials and rescuers working on the ground.

Biden's visit to Hawaii will see “the utter and utter devastation that this city has seen,” Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) administrator Deanne Criswell said Sunday on ABC's This Week.

“He will also be able to speak to the people, hear their stories and provide a sense of hope and assurance that the federal government will be with them.”

Biden, who departed from Nevada, where he was vacationing, said in a statement: “I know nothing can replace the loss of life. I will do everything in my power to help Maui recover and rebuild from this tragedy.”

– Excruciatingly slow –

Criswell defended the government's response, saying Biden's day-long visit was intended to underscore his commitment to Hawaii's recovery.

She said more than 1,000 federal relief workers are now in Hawaii – adding that none of them need to be relocated to the US Southwest, where the effects of Tropical Storm Hilary are being felt.

Maui residents say the process of recovering lost loved ones — and identifying bodies — has been excruciatingly slow, and have criticized the government for its slow response.

As a result, “in some Maui circles, Biden may not be guaranteed a warm welcome,” the Honolulu Star-Advertiser concluded.

While search parties have covered 85 percent of the search area, the remaining 15 percent could take weeks, Gov. Josh Green said on CBS's Face the Nation. The extreme heat of the fire may have made it impossible to recover some remains.

Criswell acknowledged the process could be slow, but said the federal government sent experts from the FBI, Department of Defense and Department of Health and Human Services to help with the arduous identification process.

While visits by the President to major disaster areas are considered almost politically obligatory, they can harbor risks.

When President George W. Bush traveled to Louisiana in 2005 to witness the historic devastation of Hurricane Katrina, critics picked up images of him looking out the window of Air Force One while flying over New Orleans and said it was his visit at arm's length lacked empathy.

And when then-President Donald Trump casually tossed paper towel rolls into a crowd in hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, critics called his gesture cavalier and insensitive.

(Except for the headline, this article was not edited by NDTV staff and is published via a syndicated feed.)

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