Photo gallery: President Biden visits Lahaina wildfire disaster area on Maui
Posted on August 23, 2023
Gallery: President Biden at the Lahaina Civic Center
Gallery: Presidential visit to Lahaina inundation zone
Gallery: Presidential arrival at Kahului Airport
President Biden visits Lahaina, meets with wildfire survivors and first responders
President Joe Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden visited Maui on Monday to assess the damage of the wildfire disaster area in Lahaina and meet with survivors and first responders who were impacted by the fires.
After landing aboard Air Force One at the Kahului Airport, President Biden and a contingent of state and federal officials — including Gov. Josh Green, Sen. Brian Schatz, Sen. Mazie Hirono and Rep. Jill Tokuda — quickly boarded helicopters for a short flight to West Maui.
The president landed at the Kapalua-West Maui Regional Airport just after noon and was greeted by Mayor Richard Bissen, who accompanied the president and first lady on a tour of Front Street and the Lahaina disaster area.
After receiving a briefing on the situation from Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, the Incident Commander for the Lahaina wildfire disaster, President Biden met briefly with a large contingent of first responders, including Maui Fire Chief Brad Ventura and Maui Police Chief John Pelletier, before addressing reporters during a press conference on Front Street.
“To my left is the banyan tree beloved by this community for over 150 years. Today, it’s burned, but it’s still standing. The tree survived for a reason,” said President Biden. “I believe it is a very powerful symbol of what we can and will do to get through this crisis.
“We will be respectful of these sacred grounds and traditions and rebuild the way the people of Maui want to build, not the way others want to build,” the president added.
Mayor Bissen said, “I want to thank our country’s leaders, especially President Joe Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, for traveling here to Maui to see firsthand the catastrophic destruction our people are facing as a result of this devastating wildfire. We are incredibly grateful for the overwhelming outpouring of kindness, kōkua and kakoʻo that we are receiving on Maui, and I am humbled by how everyone in Hawaiʻi, and countless others around the world, have stood with us during this difficult time.”
After the visit to Front Street, the president and first lady traveled to the Lahaina Civic Center, where they spoke to a group of more than 100 wildfire survivors and their family members. There, President Biden spoke to the crowd and reiterated his commitment to rebuilding Lahaina in a manner consistent with the priorities of area residents who were impacted by the tragedy.
President Biden pledged to Maui the ongoing support of the nation. “For as long as it takes, we’re going to be with you, the whole country will be with you,” he said. “We will be respectful of your culture and traditions.”
Governor Green cited previous disasters that Hawai‘i has come through. “We’ve been through so much together in recent years,” he said. “Three years of COVID, the volcanic eruptions of 2018 and 2022 which ravaged the Big Island; there are scars in people’s lives left by opioids and homelessness, but none of this has been as tragic as this fire in Lahaina.”
“Our hearts are broken and we will heal with the assistance of President Biden; and the federal government, and the love and compassion of resources throughout our state, we know we have the support to lift us up as we find those who are lost to deal with the tragedy,” he said.
“The people of Lahaina will need time to heal, to recover and to grieve,” he said. “Like we’ve been sharing, and as President Biden said today, Lahaina belongs to its people and we are committed to rebuilding Lahaina the way the people of Lahaina want…this land is for the people of Maui and it is reserved as they return and rebuild,” the Governor said, reiterating that he has asked the state Attorney General to enhance criminal penalties for predatory purchases of fire-devastated real estate.
Governor Green re-emphasized that while travel to West Maui is restricted to returning residents and emergency responders, the rest of Maui and our state remains safe and open for visitors. He encouraged visitors to come, “to support our local economy and speed the recovery.”
“The world is watching, and we will show it the true strength of our culture, our people and all that we believe. And as they watch us heal, protect and nurture one another, the world will be reminded why it loves and embraces Hawai‘i and we embrace it.”
The president and first lady concluded their visit to Maui at 4:47 p.m., when Air Force One departed from Kahului Airport, bound for Nevada.