- By Max Matza
- BBC News, Seattle
President Joe Biden visited Hawaii’s wildfire damage after reviewing his administration’s response to the state’s worst natural disaster.
He arrived in Maui on Monday, 13 days after the first U.S. wildfire in more than a century, to tell survivors his “sorry is with you.”
Mr Biden and First Lady Jill Biden visited the charred ruins of Lahaina and met with first responders.
At least 114 people have died and 850 are still missing.
Hawaii’s governor says many of the victims may be children.
Speaking for about 10 minutes amid the rubble, Mr Biden said: “However long it takes, we’re going to be with you.” “The whole country will be with you.”
He added: “The country mourns with you, stands with you and will do everything to help you recover.”
Mr Biden – who also took an aerial tour of the bushfire damage – described the devastation as “enormous”.
The president and the federal agencies he oversees have come under fire from Hawaiians who say aid is inadequate and poorly organized.
Republicans have criticized the Democratic president in the two holidays since the Aug. 8 fire.
To visit Hawaii, Mr. Biden interrupted his current vacation in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, where he is renting a home owned by a Democratic donor, the White House said.
When asked about the rising death toll while on the Delaware beach on Aug. 13, Mr. Biden angered some Hawaiians by saying they had “no idea.”
The White House said Mr Biden delayed his trip to the disaster area so he would not be distracted from the relief efforts.
The President issued a major disaster declaration on August 10 to expedite federal funding and assistance to the region.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency says more than 1,000 federal responders are now on the ground in Hawaii.
Local authorities also faced criticism. Maui’s emergency management chief resigned last week after the agency faced backlash for failing to activate its alarm system in the wake of the fire.
To date, 27 of the dead have been identified and 11 families have been notified, Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen said Monday.
Details have begun to emerge in recent days about who the victims are – so far they include a keen musician and loving grandmothers and fathers.
In some respects, Mr Pisen said the 850 missing was “positive news” as it was down from more than 2,000 unaccounted for immediately after the fires.
Family members of the missing have been asked to provide DNA samples to aid in the search for recovery.
Experts have told the BBC that it could take months or even years to find and identify the victims given the scale of the destruction and the possibility of many remains being found.