(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden will see the “complete and utter devastation” from the Maui wildfires in Hawaii when he visits Monday but also offer a sense of “hope,” Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell said Sunday.
“I think the biggest thing is, he’s going to be able to see what I saw when I went to Maui last week and just really experience the complete and utter devastation that this town had experienced,” Criswell told ABC “This Week” co-anchor Jonathan Karl, referring to Lahaina, a town on the island that was largely consumed in the blaze.
The death toll from the fires is at more than 110, according to officials.
Criswell said search efforts were 78% complete in Lahaina as of Saturday night.
She said the president is “also going to be able to talk with people and hear their stories and provide a sense of hope and assurance that the federal government is going to be with them as he has directed, and we will continue to bring in resources to support the requests of the governor and their needs as they go through the recovery process.”
Biden and first lady Jill Biden will travel to Maui on Monday to observe the damage from and recovery efforts surrounding the wildfires as well as meet with survivors and first responders, the White House has said.
Conservative critics have accused the president of devoting relatively little attention to the unfolding disaster.
Last week, he said the federal government would be ceaseless in its efforts to help the island recover: “As long as it takes, and I mean that sincerely,” he said.
On “This Week,” Criswell detailed some of how the federal government is assisting the recovery.
“We continue to have our teams on the ground going through all of the structures that were lost as a result of this fire,” she told Karl.
“But we’ve also given out already over $8 million to families that have been impacted and registered for assistance with FEMA. And our shelter population is down to just over 40, with over 1,200 people that have been moved into hotels, motels and other types of short-term rentals,” she said.
Criswell said the most important step Maui residents can take is to register with FEMA so they can receive housing assistance.
“The biggest thing for them right now is that we continue to get them into the system so they can either move from congregate sheltering, where, again, that population has reduced drastically, and into the short-term rental assistance,” she said. “And then as we continue to work with the governor and his team, working with each of these individuals, each of these families, to help them with what their longer-term strategy is going to be and where they’re going to stay while they are making plans for what they’re going to do to rebuild.”
Elsewhere, Criswell warned of the upcoming danger of Hurricane Hilary, which is expected to move into Southern California from Mexico on Sunday and threatens to bring a deluge of rain to a part of the country that isn’t accustomed to such weather.
“People really need to take this storm in California serious. I think it’s interesting that the total rain amounts aren’t like what we see in some of our Atlantic storms and Gulf [of Mexico] storms, but it’s going to really be potentially devastating for them in these desert areas,” she said. “It’s just making sure people stay out of harm’s way, that they don’t drive through this water and they take it serious.”
Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.