Hawaii fires: Biden commits support after 'unimaginable tragedy' on Maui trip

At least 850 people still unaccounted for after deadly wildfires

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US President Joe Biden on Monday toured wildfire-damaged parts of Maui to show solidarity with affected Hawaiians after the "unimaginable tragedy".

The visit comes about two weeks after the fires tore through the historic town of Lahaina.

“Whatever you need, you’re going to get,” Mr Biden said while in Lahaina, with a vow to help residents rebuild.

“To the people of Hawaii, we’re with you for as long as it takes. I promise you.”

He and his wife Jill Biden saw first-hand the effects of one of the worst disasters to strike the US during his administration.

Federal estimates thus far have put the damage at more than $5.5 billion.

Mr Biden spoke near a burnt 150-year-old banyan tree, pointing to it as a symbol of the town’s resilience and spirit.

“Today, it’s burnt. But it’s still standing," he said. "The tree survived for a reason. I believe it’s a very powerful symbol of what we can and will do to get through this crisis.

"For as long as it takes we’re going to be with you. The whole country will be with you.”

He added he would make sure “your voices are heard” and that local traditions would be respected.

Mr Biden met first responders and local leaders, joined by Governor Josh Green, Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Deanne Criswell, the state’s US senators, Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono, and other politicians.

He announced more federal assistance funding and appointed Bob Fenton, a Fema official, as a response co-ordinator.

Maui Mayor Richard Bissen said 850 people remained unaccounted for after the fires swept across the island.

“There is positive news in this number, because when this process began the missing person list contains over 2,000 names,” he said.

Of the confirmed 114 deaths, 27 have been identified.

“As we continue the recovery process the number identified will rise and the number of missing may decrease," Mr Bissen said.

"But there will be daily fluctuations in the numbers as family members are added and removed from the list."

The County of Maui said 85 per cent of the disaster area had been searched.

Operations to find bodies in the remaining areas could take weeks, Hawaii Governor Josh Green told CBS.

Survivors have criticised the response from state and federal agencies, and authorities on the island because sirens were not sounded as the fires spread.

They have also said that federal assistance has been inadequate.

Fema administrator Deanne Criswell defended the efforts, saying more than 1,000 responders were at the scene in Hawaii.

Mr Biden issued a major disaster declaration on August 10, two days after the fires began.

The White House also said he had been in contact with officials while on holiday in Nevada.

Mr Biden previously said he would visit Maui if it did not interfere with recovery efforts.

News agencies contributed to this report

Updated: August 22, 2023, 4:57 AM