By Bernd Debusmann Jr in Washington, Max Matza in Maui, and Christy Cooney in London

BBC News

US President Joe Biden says he will travel to Hawaii “as soon as he can” amid criticism of his response to the island’s deadly wildfires.

Speaking in Milwaukee on Tuesday, Mr Biden said he wanted to ensure that the people in the state had “everything they need”.

The death toll from the fires is now 101 with some 1,300 people missing.

Hawaii residents have complained about the pace of the federal government’s response to the disaster.

While at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, over the weekend, Mr Biden was asked by a reporter about the rising death toll in Hawaii, and responded: “No comment.”

The president said on Tuesday he had not yet visited because of concerns that doing so would divert resources and attention from the humanitarian response. Jill Biden will accompany him to Hawaii, he said.

“I don’t want to get in the way. I’ve been to too many disaster areas,” Mr Biden said. “I want to be sure we don’t disrupt ongoing recovery efforts.”

Over 500 federal emergency personnel have so far been dispatched to help with relief efforts, including 150 search and rescue specialists.

Additional personnel are being sent to Maui to help those already on the ground, Mr Biden added.

He said that “all available federal assets” in the region would be used for recovery efforts, including the US military and Coast Guard.

“It’s painstaking work. It takes time and it’s nerve wracking,” the president said.

Emergency workers search through destroyed neighbourhoods in the Maui city of Lahaina, HawaiiIMAGE SOURCE,REUTERS

The US Small Business Administration has also begun offering low-interest disaster loans to help local residents rebuild.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) has approved one-time payments of $700 (£550) per household to help with immediate needs in the wake of the disaster.

“Every asset they need will be there for them,” said Mr Biden. “And we’ll be there in Maui as long as it takes.”

In a video update on Tuesday, Governor Josh Green said he and Mr Biden were speaking “often” and would work out a time for the president to visit once “the heart-breaking work is done on the ground finding those we’ve lost”.

Officials in Hawaii have said they expect the death toll to rise in the coming days as more bodies are recovered from the worst hit parts of Maui. Only 25% of the affected area has so far been searched for human remains.

Approximately 80% of Lahaina – a town of about 12,000 residents – was destroyed in the blaze.

On the ground in Maui, many residents told the BBC they have been frustrated at the scale and the speed of the recovery efforts.

One resident, Les Munn, said he had so far received $500 from Fema – less than the price of a night in most hotel rooms on the island.

For now, he is still sleeping on a cot in a shelter.

President Biden speaks from a podium during a visit to an engineering facility in MilwaukeeIMAGE SOURCE,REUTERS

Image caption,

Joe Biden in Milwaukee

Another local, Felicia Johnson, said that “everybody wants the glory but nobody wants to put their feet on the ground”.

On a street above the fire line in Lahaina, one woman said she feared she would starve to death in the days after the fire.

But now people are dropping bags of ice, water, clothing, batteries and small solar chargers at her neighbour’s home, one of several grassroots relief supplies hubs co-ordinated by locals in the area.

Ahead of a second trip into the worst-hit area, Amory Mowrey spent $1,700 to load his and his friend’s SUVs with toilet paper, cases of water, packs of batteries and sacks of rice.

“We’re just trying to get supplies as fast as possible into the affected areas so people get what they need,” he said. “There’s a lack of response, it felt like, from large organisations.”

Media caption,

Watch: ”Thank God that he gave us tears’ Maui resident

Others expressed frustration that locally sourced supplies were being turned away by government officials, or that road closures had prevented people from entering Lahaina to help.

“The government’s getting in the way of people helping,” said Liz Germansky, who lost her home in the fire.

“I don’t think the government could have done less,” she told the BBC while sitting in a traffic jam on the island.

“The way things are unfolding right now is typical of what we all experienced on Tuesday… it’s no wonder that this got so out of hand.”

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