CondolenceDisasterHealthNorth America

US President Joe Biden to visit Hawaii as first wildfire victims named

  –  U.S. President Joe Biden will head to fire-ravaged Hawaii next week to meet with survivors and first responders still hunting for bodies, the White House said Wednesday, as the first victims of the horrific blaze were named.

The fire, which  level led the historic town of Lahaina on Maui, is the deadliest in the United States for more than a century, with the toll expected to grow further over the coming days.

At least 106 people are now known to have died, with a huge swathe of the disaster zone yet to be searched.

Only five victims have been identified, two of whom were named by Maui County officials as Robert Dyckman, 74, and 79-year-old Buddy Jantoc, both from Lahaina.

Jantoc’s family described him as a musician who had previously toured with Carlos Santana.

“I’m hoping he was asleep,” his daughter-in-law Shari Jantoc said, according to the New York Times. “I hope to God he did not suffer.”

Authorities on Maui have begun collecting DNA samples from people whose relatives are missing, in a bid to speed a process hampered by the severity of the fire, which left many bodies charred beyond recognition.

But the task of finding victims is also slow, arduous work, even with the use of dogs specially trained to locate cadavers.

“This is a really difficult search operation,” Deanne Criswell, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), told reporters on Wednesday.

“The dogs have to navigate the heat, they have to deal with issues with their paws walking through glass and debris and in these conditions, the dogs require frequent rest. I want to be honest with everyone: this is also going to be a very long and hard recovery.”

Officials have repeatedly cautioned that the final death toll might not be known for weeks — but is expected to be significantly higher.

The White House said Biden and his wife, Jill, will “meet with first responders, survivors, as well as federal, state, and local officials” in Maui on Monday.

“I remain committed to delivering everything the people of Hawaii need as they recover from this disaster,” the president wrote on social media.

Biden had quickly declared a “major disaster” in Hawaii after last week’s inferno, allowing the deployment of emergency assistance from the federal government, and has talked several times with Hawaii Governor Josh Green.

The White House said emergency officials had advised that “search and recovery efforts are expected to be at a stage early next week to allow for a presidential visit.”

Related Articles

Back to top button