(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden will visit Maui on Monday to observe the damage and recovery from devastating wildfires on the Hawaiian island that started earlier this month.
Biden had been criticized by conservatives for what they contended was his relative silence on the disaster, which officials say has killed more than 110 people.
Last week, however, the president vowed the federal government’s aid to Hawaii would be continuous.
“We will be there in Maui as long as it takes,” Biden said while in Milwaukee for an unrelated event. “As long as it takes. And I mean that sincerely.”
White House spokeswoman Olivia Dalton also pushed back on the detractors, insisting to reporters on Tuesday, “The fact of the matter is this president has been on it from the beginning.”
More than 1,000 federal personnel are on the ground in Maui, including more than 450 search and rescue team members, and nearly $7 million in federal assistance has been disbursed to nearly 2,200 households, including nearly $3 million in initial rental assistance, according to a White House fact sheet sent to reporters on Saturday.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has also made available more than 50,000 meals, 75,000 liters of water, 5,000 cots and 10,000 blankets and shelter supplies to the county government for distribution.
In Maui, the president and first lady Jill Biden will “meet with first responders, survivors, as well as federal, state, and local officials,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement last week.
“They’re very much looking forward to being able to meet with people on the ground,” White House spokesman John Kirby said on Good Morning America on Friday. “Obviously, there’s nothing fun about going to Maui at this particular time, but they know it’s an important time. They know that people are suffering. They want to hear those stories.”
In an appearance on on This Week on Sunday, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell detailed some of the federal response.
“The update that I got last evening is right now the search efforts are 78% complete in Lahaina town, and 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 co-anchor Jonathan Karl. Lahaina was largely devastated by the blaze.
“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,” Criswell said Sunday.
She said the Bidens’ visit will afford the president the opportunity to view the “devastation” for himself while offering residents some “hope.”
“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 said.
“But he’s 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.”
As of Friday night, fires in Olinda and Kula were 85% contained, the Lahaina fire was 90% contained and the Pulehu/Kihei fire was 100% contained, according to Maui officials.
ABC News’ Ben Gittleson and Justin Gomez contributed to this report.
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