The president of the United States, Joe Biden, questioned by his response to the fire on the Hawaiian island of Maui, will visit the archipelago next week to supervise first-hand the recovery efforts after the deadliest fire in the history of the country in more of a century, which has already left at least 106 dead and hundreds missing and has burned the historic city of Lahaina. Biden, who will travel to the archipelago accompanied by his wife, Jill, will meet with relief teams, disaster survivors, and local and federal officials, according to the White House.
The president had received widespread criticism of his response to the catastrophe after answering a question from the press about the tragedy with “no comment” during a bike ride. The White House points out that Biden has been permanently informed about the events and gave orders from the outset to make all the necessary federal resources available to the island.
But the comment, or lack thereof, has left deep unease on Maui, where thousands of Lahaina residents who have lost everything in the fire need food to survive. Access to the city, the former capital of the kingdom of Hawaii, remains severely limited: an initial attempt to open roads over the weekend was halted almost immediately when mobs began searching through the ruins of the burned-out old town. . Fearing that the crowd would jeopardize the search for bodies, the accesses were closed again. This Wednesday the ring road, an essential route to connect the northwest and south of the island, will be opened to the residents of the area.
The fire started Tuesday on a mountainside above Lahaina and spread rapidly, fueled by very dry vegetation from months of drought and 90-kilometer-per-hour winds, the tails of distant Hurricane Dora passing to the north. south of the archipelago. In less than four hours, he had reduced to ashes the old town of a city with a rich history, a key to Hawaiian identity, and a thriving tourist center. The emergency teams consider that the first source of the fire could have arisen from the fall of a light pole knocked down by hurricane winds.
A catamaran damaged by the Maui fire floats off the coast of Lahaina, Hawaii. US ARMY (via REUTERS)
Calculations by the Federal Disaster Management Agency (FEMA) suggest that the passage of the flames left damage worth 5,500 million dollars (about 5,040 million euros) and destroyed 2,200 buildings. So far, according to the governor of Hawaii, Josh Green, the search teams, aided by about twenty specially trained dogs, have examined 27% of the affected area to locate possible bodies. That ratio is expected to reach 80-90% by the weekend.
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One of the great fears of the native population on this island, which has tourism as its main engine, is that very wealthy real estate developers and tourists want to take advantage of the crisis to acquire land at low prices in one of the most popular enclaves of Maui, where They maintain multimillion-dollar residences like Amazon founder Jeff Bezos or TV star Oprah Winfrey.
Hawaiian authorities had urged tourists on Maui who were there on vacation when the fire started to leave the island, given the need to focus all resources on caring for those displaced by the fire. More than 15,000 visitors left in the days immediately following. The White House says in a statement that Biden’s trip next week will take place at a time when state authorities consider that “search and rescue efforts will have reached a stage that allows a presidential visit.”
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