President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will not visit Maui in the aftermath of the deadly wildfires because they “don’t want to distract” from the relief efforts, Harris announced on Friday.
The wildfires, which began Tuesday and continue to blaze, have destroyed acres of property and taken dozens of lives. On Friday, local officials announced the death toll increased to 67, making it the deadliest wildfire on U.S. soil since the 2018 Camp Fire in California killed at least 85 people.
The wildfires have destroyed at least 2,000 acres of land, including 80 percent of the Maui town Lahaina, a rich cultural area that was once the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom.
Neither Biden nor Harris will visit the devastated Hawaiian island despite the destruction, according to Harris.
“We don’t want to distract from the resources that need to go in to the victims of this tragedy, and of course, the needs of the first responders have to be able to focus on that issue and not worry about focusing on us [because] we’re there,” Harris told reporters before boarding Air Force Two for Chicago.
“We are coordinating federal resources to swiftly get there to support the work in terms of recovery but to just support the folks on the ground. It is tragic,” she said, adding that she and Biden are “deeply concerned” about the wildfire.
Biden declared it a major disaster on Thursday, opening up federal aid for the impacted areas. The federal government has also released food and water to support 5,000 people for five days.
Gov. Josh Green (D) on Thursday cautioned that the death toll would rise “significantly” in the coming days.
Power, internet, and communication outages caused by the fire have significantly impacted rescue and relief efforts.
“We as a local nonprofit are not able to even access anything west of Maalaea. West Maui is completely cut off from communication and power,” said Maui Rescue Mission communications consultant Lauren Henrie. “We are looking at years, years of recovery here.”