WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Monday will conduct a surveydamage from Hurricane Fionain Puerto Rico, where tens of thousands of people are still without power two weeks after the storm hit.
A Category 1 hurricane cut power to a US territory of 3.2 million people, 44% of whom live below the poverty line.
Electricity has been restored to about 90% of the island’s 1.47 million customers, but more than 137,000 others, mostly in the worst-hit areas of southern and western Puerto Rico,continue to strugglein the dark. Another 66,000 customers have no water.
Biden has promised that the US government will not leave Puerto Rico when Puerto Rico begins rebuilding, five years after the more powerful Hurricane Maria devastated the island in 2017.
During his visit, Biden plans to announce that the government will provide $60 million through a bipartisan infrastructure law last year to help Puerto Rico shore up levees, strengthen flood walls and create a new flood warning system so the island will be better prepared for future storms, the White House said. said.
“We saw what you went through, and we are with you,” Biden told Puerto Ricans and Florida residents in a message Sunday on his official Twitter account.
Florida is being cleaned up after Hurricane Ian rattled the state last week, killing more than 60 people, destroying some coastal communities and inundating others. Biden plans to visit Florida on Wednesday to survey the damage.
The president, accompanied by first lady Jill Biden and Deanne Criswell, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, will land Monday in Ponce, Puerto Rico, a city on the south coast. Most of the damage from the hurricane occurred in southern Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi said he would inform Biden of the recovery effort.
“We will make sure to continue to work together to ensure the continuity of the reconstruction that is already underway,” the governor tweeted on Sunday.
Fiona caused catastrophic flooding, tore roads and bridges, and unleashed more than 100 landslides when it hit Puerto Rico on September 18. At least two people died after being swept away by the floods, and several others died in accidents related to using candles or generators during island-wide power outages.
Government officials estimate the damage to be around $3 billion, but warn that costs could rise significantly as evaluations continue.
Some in Puerto Rico wonder if Biden’s visit will change anything when they remember how President Donald Trump visited after Hurricane Maria struck as a more powerful Category 4 hurricane in 2017, and threw rolls of tissue at the crowd in a display that riled up many. person.
Manuel Veguilla, a 63-year-old retired mechanic who lives in a remote community in the northern mountain town of Caguas, said he didn’t expect his life to improve after Fiona, who separated his neighborhood from any help for a week.
“They always offer the kids lollipops,” he said, referring to Biden’s visit. “But in the end, the result is always the same. The aid goes to those who have the most.”
Criswell, who discussed Fiona and Ian’s repercussions on four TV news programs Sunday, echoed Biden’s promise to Fiona’s victims.
“We haven’t left Puerto Rico yet,” he said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
Criswell told ABC’s “This Week” that FEMA personnel were sent to the island before the storm hit and that “they will be staying with the people of Puerto Rico” through recovery efforts.
Biden recently told Pierluisi he allowed 100% of federal funding for a month for debris clearing, search and rescue efforts, electricity and water restoration, shelter and food.
The island’s lack of electrical power has led to the temporary closure of businesses, including gas stations and grocery stores, as fuel supplies dwindle amid heavy use of generators. As a result, many supported the Biden administration’s decision to temporarily abandon a federal law allowing British Petroleum ships to ship 300,000 barrels of diesel.
Many have also begun to demand that Puerto Rico be fully exempt from the law, known as the Jones Act, which requires all goods transported to Puerto Rico to be on a ship built in the US, owned and crewed by a US citizen and flying the US flag. . This raises costs for an island that already imports 85% of its food.
Senator Marco Rubio, R-Fla., also said Puerto Rico would not be forgotten.
Rubio said the island appeared to be “in a better position to respond this time” because of personnel and supply deployments before the storm hit and because parts of Puerto Rico’s power grid had been rebuilt after Hurricane Maria.
“We’re going to do everything we can, we’ve always had, to support Puerto Rico now in recovery after this, another catastrophic storm,” Rubio said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”