UPDATE: 4:50 p.m.
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden departed Kahului Airport late this afternoon after spending nearly six hours on Maui, viewing the devastation of Lahaina, consoling community members, and thanking first responders after the worst U.S. wildfire in a century.
The Bidens arrived back at the airport on the Marine One helicopter and went straight to Air Force One at about 4:35 p.m.
The plane departed at 4:47 p.m. for the Bidens’ return trip to Lake Tahoe where they are vacationing this week.
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden’s departure from the Lahaina Civic Center was delayed as the president was fulfilled his promise to talk to community members attending the event.
At the end of his speech at the civic center, Biden said he would stay to talk with anyone who wanted to speak with him.
It was announced that he would go to table to table and talk to meet face-to-face with attendees. He spent a total of about two hours at the center after surveying the Lahaina devastation by air and on the ground earlier today.
The president’s helicopter, Marine One, left the center at 4:12 p.m. to return to Kahului Airport, where the Bidens will board Air Force One and return to Lake Tahoe to resume their weeklong vacation.
Air Force One was scheduled to depart after 5 p.m.
President Joe Biden lauded Maui community leaders, wildfire survivors and first responders who he said have “turned your pain into purpose.”
Speaking at the Lahaina Civic Center, Biden said the nation and the world is watching Maui and Hawaii as it rises to face the daunting task of rebuilding Lahaina.
“There’s no quit in Hawaii. There’s no quit in America,” he said. “The nation stands with you. It really does.”
Biden praised the “remarkable resilience” among community members he had witnessed during his few hours on the ground.
The president also spoke, as he often does when addressing communities impacted by tragedy, of understanding the personal weight of devastating loss and the slow and painful process of recovering. Biden’s wife Neilia Hunter Biden and one-year-old daughter, Naomi, died in a car accident in 1972.
“When things look the most bleak, that’s when we need faith,” Biden said. “Faith sees best in the dark,” the president said, quoting the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard.
After speaking at the civic center, Biden told the crowd he would stick around to speak with anyone who wants to talk with him.
After touring the rubble of Front Street, President Joe Biden used Lahaina’s famous banyan tree as a metaphor for the Valley Isle and its residents, saying “the fire cannot reach its roots. That’s Maui.”
Speaking not far from the damaged-but-still-standing 150-year-old tree, Biden told survivors that the nation “grieves with you.”
“Today it’s burned but it’s still standing,” Biden said of the tree. “The tree survived for a reason. I believe it’s a very powerful symbol of what we can and will do to get through this crisis.”
He promised that the federal government will help Maui “for as long as it takes” to recover after he and first lady Jill Biden saw firsthand the “overwhelming” devastation caused by the deadliest wildfire in the United States in more than a century.
Biden arrived on Maui today, 13 days after the Aug. 8 wildfires killed at least 114 and left over 800 people missing.
“The country grieves with you, stands with you, and will do everything possible to help you recover,” Biden said.
He also vowed, “we will rebuild the way the Maui people want to rebuild.”
LAHAINA >> Marine One landed at Kapalua Airport about noon and the Bidens, the governor and congressional delegation, FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell and others traveling with the president left in a caravan.
The caravan drove past protesters outside the airport on Honoapiilani Highway, one of whom shouted an obscenity. The caravan stopped briefly, when the president and others were seen talking to one protester. The caravan then continued on to Lahaina.
Biden, wearing a presidential baseball cap, and the delegation walked along Front Street and received a briefing from Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, of the Hawaii State Department of Defense, then spoke with first responders.
KAHULUI >> President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden arrived on Maui this morning for an emotional day of comforting survivors of the devastating wildfires that destroyed Lahaina, killing at least 114 people.
The Bidens interrupted a weeklong vacation in Lake Tahoe for the five-hour flight to Maui. Air Force One landed at Kahului Airport at about 11:10 a.m. as scheduled.
Gov. Josh Green and first lady Jaime Green, U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono, and U.S. Rep. Jill Tokuda welcomed the Bidens on the airport tarmac.
President Biden, who is expected to address the public later today, did not make any formal remarks. However, the Bidens exchanged hugs and handshakes with the Greens and members of Hawaii’s congressional delegation.
President Biden had his arm around Green’s shoulders as the group walked to Marine One helicopter and Ospreys for an aerial tour of the devastation.
Hirono, who is part of the delegation traveling with Biden, briefly met with members of the media prior to the arrival of Air Force One.
Hirono said she wanted Biden and the first lady to see the needs in Maui first hand. She said it was a time of mourning in Maui, but that at some point Maui would need to recover.
“I would like them to talk with the local people and see for themselves the devastation and the need for federal aid,” Hirono said. “We certainly are going to ask for whatever we can.”
The loss of human lives — at 114 today but expected to climb significantly with an estimated 850 missing — drove the initial message from some officials, residents, social media influencers and celebrities strongly discouraging nonessential travel to all of Maui.
Now, however, as economic woes build, Green and the Hawaii Tourism Authority are pushing the message that visitors should avoid West Maui, but are welcome to come to other parts of the Valley Isle, like Kahului, Wailuku, Kihei, Wailea, Makena, Paia and Hana. And tourism is encouraged on Kauai, Oahu, Lanai, Molokai and Hawaii island.
Hirono pledged to help get federal support for victims that were directly impacted by the wildfires, and said that she was also trying to find programs that could help the indirect victims of the Maui wildfires.
“We will do everything we can to help them. We are identifying every disaster program that we can access to help everyone,” she said.
Maui Mayor Richard Bissen and U.S. Rep. Ed Case were waiting to welcome the president at Kapalua Airport where Marine One will land.
Bissen told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that he wants the presidential visit to bring hope to the island’s residents.
Case said it’s important for the president to get a first-hand look of the devastation. He said Biden and Hawaii’s Democratic congressional delegation must work with Republicans to make sure that finding for FEMA’s Maui relief keeps flowing after the new fiscal year starts Oct. 1
The Bidens plan to meet with first responders and be briefed by state and local officials about the ongoing response.
They will also see the destruction from the air and on the ground, and the president will deliver remarks paying tribute to the victims of the wildfires on Aug. 8.
“It’s going to be an emotional day for everyone,” Olivia Dalton, the White House deputy press secretary, told reporters traveling with Biden earlier today.
The White House announced today that Biden has named Bob Fenton, a regional leader at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to be the chief federal response coordinator for the Maui wildfires, ensuring that someone from his administration will be responsible for long-term recovery efforts. It will take years to rebuild Lahaina, where just about every building was obliterated.
“I know how profoundly loss can impact a family and a community and I know nothing can replace the loss of life,” Biden said in a statement before the trip. “I will do everything in my power to help Maui recover and rebuild from this tragedy. And throughout our efforts, we are focused on respecting sacred lands, cultures, and traditions.”
The Bidens are scheduled to leave Maui after 5 p.m. and return to Lake Tahoe.
Stat-Advertiser reporters Dan Nakaso in West Maui and Allison Schaefers in Kahului, and the Associated Press contributed to this report.