WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden will review the damage caused by Hurricane Fiona in Puerto Rico on Monday, where tens of thousands of people are still without power two weeks after the storm hit.
The category 1 hurricane left 3.2 million people without electricity in the United States, 44% of whom live below the poverty line.
Power has been restored to about 90% of the island’s 1.47 million customers, but more than 137,000 others, mostly in the hardest-hit areas of Puerto Rico’s southern and western regions, continue to fight in the dark. 66,000 other customers are without water.
Biden has pledged the US government will not abandon Puerto Rico as it begins to rebuild, five years after the most powerful Hurricane Maria devastated the island in 2017.
“We see what you are going through and we are with you,” Biden told Puerto Ricans and Floridians in a message Sunday on his official Twitter account.
Florida is cleaning up after Hurricane Ian swept through the state last week, killing more than 60 people, decimating some coastal communities and inundating others. Biden plans to travel to Florida on Wednesday to assess the damage.
The president, accompanied by first lady Jill Biden and Deanne Criswell, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was scheduled to land in Ponce, Puerto Rico, a city on the south coast, on Monday. Most of the storm damage is in southern Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi said he would brief Biden on recovery efforts.
“We will ensure that we continue to work together to ensure the continuity of a reconstruction already underway,” the governor tweeted on Sunday.
Fiona caused catastrophic flooding, destroyed roads and bridges and triggered 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 were killed in accidents related to candle or generator use during the island-wide power outage.
Government officials have estimated the damage at around $3 billion, but warn that costs could rise significantly as assessments continue.
Some people in Puerto Rico wondered if Biden’s visit would change anything as they recalled President Donald Trump’s visit after Hurricane Maria hit as a more powerful Category 4 storm in 2017, and said threw rolls of paper towels into a crowd at an exhibition that annoyed many.
Manuel Veguilla, a 63-year-old retired mechanic who lives in an isolated community in the hard-hit northern mountain town of Caguas, said he didn’t expect his life to improve as a result of Fiona, who cut her neighborhood off from help for a week.
“They always give the kids the lollipop,” he said, referring to Biden’s visit. “But in the end, the result is always the same. Help goes to those who have the most.
Criswell, who discussed the aftermath of Fiona and Ian on four Sunday TV news programs, echoed Biden’s promise to Fiona’s victims.
“We didn’t leave Puerto Rico,” she 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’re going to stick with the people of Puerto Rico” through recovery efforts.
Biden recently told Pierluisi he has authorized 100% federal funding for one month for debris removal, search and rescue efforts, power and water restoration, shelters and the food.
The lack of electricity on the island has caused the temporary closure of businesses, including gas stations and grocery stores, as fuel supplies have dwindled due to heavy use of generators. As a result, many applauded the Biden administration’s decision to temporarily waive a federal law so a British Petroleum ship could deliver 300,000 barrels of diesel.
Many have also begun demanding that Puerto Rico be completely exempt from the law, known as the Jones Act, which requires that all goods transported to Puerto Rico be on board a vessel built in the United States, owned and equipped. by American citizens and flying the American flag. . This drives up costs for an island that already imports 85% of its food.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., also said Puerto Ricans will not be forgotten.
Rubio said the island appeared to be “in a better position to respond this time around” due to the pre-positioning of personnel and supplies ahead of the storm and because part of Puerto Rico’s power grid had been rebuilt after the storm. Hurricane Maria.
“We will do everything we can, we always have, to support Puerto Rico now in the recovery from this devastating new storm,” Rubio said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico.