As Puerto Ricans continue to recover from Hurricane Fiona, which ravaged the island a week before Hurricane Ian crashed into Florida, President Joe Biden hopes to let them know they are not forgotten on Monday.
Two days before he heads to Florida to evaluate the rescue and recovery work there, Biden is in the U.S. territory. Fiona was a Category 1 hurricane, whereas Ian was a Category 4 hurricane, but Puerto Rico has never fully recovered from Hurricane Maria, which in 2017 wrecked the electrical infrastructure and killed almost 3,000 people.
According to Biden and other administration officials, Puerto Rico is entitled to more than it has received, and it must rebound stronger than before.
- 90% of consumers have had power restored since Fiona’s island-wide power disruptions. However, according to the tracking website PowerOutage, over 130,000 people were still without power on Sunday.
- Fiona’s winds were not as strong as Maria’s, but compared to earlier storms, the hurricane did a lot of water damage. Numerous landslides, destroyed homes, washed-out bridges, and downed power lines occurred in Puerto Rico.
- The federal government is covering the cost of 30 days’ worth of recovery activities, including as clearing the area of debris, conducting searches and rescues, providing emergency food and shelter, and restoring power and water.
- Federal law has also been temporarily relaxed by the federal government to permit imports of foreign diesel to power generators.
- Biden is anticipated to make the announcement that Puerto Rico will receive more than $60 million from an infrastructure package authorized last year during his visit. The funds will be used to build new flood warning systems, reinforce flood walls, and shore up levees.
What’s about to happen?
Biden will meet with families and local officials on his first trip to Puerto Rico as president. He will assist in packing backpacks with food and other necessities after being informed of ongoing recovery activities.
Biden tweeted on Sunday, “We see what you’re going through, and we’re with you.” Jill Biden, the first lady, and Deanne Criswell, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, will accompany him.
More than 1,000 staffers from FEMA and other government agencies have been sent to Puerto Rico to help the 700 employees who are based there. Teams for search and rescue, bicultural Disaster Survivor Assistance Teams, and power restoration specialists were also present.
Biden and Fiona, Trump and Maria
There may be analogies between Biden’s response to Hurricane Fiona and former President Donald Trump’s interactions with Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. Trump accused island officials of ineffective leadership, wasteful spending, and a lack of appreciation for the assistance provided by his government. When Trump visited the island following Hurricane Maria, the mayor of San Juan, whose leadership Trump lambasted, retaliated by accusing Trump of throwing rolls of paper towels into the throng.
However, the Biden administration has received some of its own criticism for Fiona. According to Politico, some community and nonprofit leaders questioned why Biden’s disaster proclamation did not originally encompass the entirety of Puerto Rico and grumbled about the delayed flow of relief.
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Puerto Ricans are also worried that Florida’s demands will take precedence over theirs.
What they are saying
- At the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Phoenix Awards on Saturday, Biden stated, “We owe Puerto Rico a hell of a lot more than they’ve already gotten.”
- Vice President Kamala Harris stated, “It is our core priority to assist Puerto Rico not simply recover, but actually develop.”
- As of last week, Criswell told reporters, “We are dedicated to continuing to work with the governor of Puerto Rico in his efforts to ensure that we can restore this grid in a way that’s actually going to be more resilient for future hits.”
- Jenniffer González-Colón, a representative for Puerto Rico in Congress, wrote, “I am sure that both in Florida and Puerto Rico we WILL come back from this calamity, and as Americans, we must all stand together, in a bipartisan way to make sure the reconstruction starts clearly and immediately.”