Biden to reassure Maui’s Lahaina residents they will control rebuilding after devastating wildfires

US President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden step off Air Force One upon arrival at Reno-Tahoe International Airport, Reno, Nevada on August 18, 2023.

Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images

U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Deanne Criswell said on Sunday that President Joe Biden will reassure the people of Lahaina that they will be in control of how they rebuild when he visits the razed Maui community on Monday.

The president along with the first lady plan to visit the historic Hawaiian town and meet with first responders, local officials and victims and get a firsthand look at the widespread devastation, Criswell said on CNN’s “State Of The Union” show.

“He’s going to be able to reassure the people of Maui that the federal government is there to support them, but we’re doing it in a way that’s going to allow them to rebuild the way they want to rebuild,” she said.

The wildfires incinerated the town of Lahaina on Aug. 8, destroying 2,200 homes and businesses and leaving hundreds unaccounted for. As of Sunday morning, 114 people were confirmed dead.

In a separate interview on ABC’s “This Week” program on Sunday, Criswell said search efforts in Lahaina town are 78% complete and that victims have received more than $8 million in federal assistance. Biden has faced criticism from Republicans for not speaking publicly about the tragedy until five days after it occurred. Criswell said she was in communication in the days that followed the wildfires, helping Biden understand the magnitude of the situation and what resources were needed.

“He directed me to make sure that we are doing everything we can to help the people of Maui and to bring in all of the federal resources to help with this immediate response,” she said.

The cause of the fires has not yet been determined pending the results of an official investigation.

In other developments:

— Details have begun to emerge about the lives of the deceased. Forensic pathologists, X-ray technicians, fingerprint experts and forensic dentists are working 12 hours a day to complete the grim task of identifying those lost.

— Getting kids back to school poses challenges as hundreds have already enrolled in schools in areas outside the burn zone. Some will be too traumatized to attend when their schools in Lahaina reopen while some parents will opt to move rather than rebuild.

Wherever they attend, school can be a step toward normalcy for survivors in a community grappling with how to pick up lives while carrying the burden of mourning.

— Biden on Friday authorized additional federal support for Hawaii, the White House said.