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President Biden and the First Lady visited PR in the aftermath of Fiona.
President Biden and the First Lady visited PR in the aftermath of Fiona. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Biden goes to Puerto Rico with memories of Trump still fresh

Biden pledges more aid to help the island’s recovery after Fiona.

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On Monday, Oct. 3, President Joe Biden and the First Lady Jill Biden visited Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona. While speaking to a gathering of leaders and media, Biden reassured commitment to the rebuild of the island as residents have felt neglected by the U.S. government. Biden was joined at the press conference by Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Deanne Criswell. 

Before his visit, Biden told reporters: “I’m heading to Puerto Rico because they haven’t been taken very good care of. We’ve been trying like hell to catch up from the last hurricane. I want to see the state of affairs today and make sure we push everything we can.” 

Nearly two weeks after Hurricane Fiona swept Puerto Rico, tens of thousands are still without power as the island struggles to rebuild and bounce back from their second major hurricane in five years after Hurricane Maria in 2017. Federal and other aid has been slow, as a British ship carrying diesel supplies and other aid was barely allowed to enter the island’s ports after U.S. government recently waived the Jones Act for a limited time. 

“I’m committed to this island. Puerto Ricans are a strong people,” Biden said. “But even so, you have had to bear so much, and more than need be, and you haven’t gotten the help in a timely way.” 

The island, home to over 3.2 million people, will want to bolster their defenses against such natural disasters in the future. Puerto Rico has the highest poverty rate compared to any U.S. state or territory and remains superbly vulnerable as climate change will only bring more and powerful storms in the future. As of Sunday, more than 86% of residents have had their power restored. However, an additional 66,000 people are without water. 

Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi told Biden in the briefing that the water difficulties were similar to being hit by a Category 4 hurricane despite Fiona only being Category 1.

Criswell said that there is also some work to be done to rebuild trust lost by the previous administration, which failed on most fronts to cope with Hurricane Maria. 

“They finally feel like this administration cares for them, and that they’re going to be there for them to support them through this response and recovery effort,” said Criswell of the hopes of Biden’s visit.

During his visit, the president was briefed on the storm as well as announced over $60 million in federal aid to help the island in their rebuilding efforts. The funds are a part of the bipartisan infrastructure law, which will help bolster the island’s levees and flood walls. It will also create a new flood warning system to help residents better prepare for any future storms that come their way. 

“Through these disasters so many people have been displaced from their homes, lost their jobs and savings or suffered injuries — often unseen but many times seen — but somehow, the people of Puerto Rico keep getting back up with resilience and determination,” Biden said. “You deserve every bit of help your country can give you. That’s what I’m determined to do and that’s what I promise you. After Maria, Congress approved billions of dollars to Puerto Rico, much of it not having gotten here initially. We’re going to make sure you get every single dollar promised.” 

The President recently approved a disaster declaration for the island on Sept. 21, according to a White House fact sheet. As a result, over 1,000 federal response workers were in Puerto Rico’s most-affected areas providing support with over 450 members of the island’s National Guard activated. 

Fiona caused flooding and tore apart roads and bridges, including one built in the aftermath of Maria in 2017 by the National Guard. It also caused more than 100 landslides when it first made landfall on the island on Sept. 18. At least two people died as a result of being swept away by floods, and several others were killed in accidents related to the use of candles or generators during the initial power outage that left almost all of the island without electricity. 

Officials have said that the island has suffered more than $3 billion in damages, but the number could rise to more as evaluations of the damages continue. Biden told Pierluisi that he authorized 100% federal funding for 30 days for debris removal, search and rescue efforts, power and water restoration, shelter and food.

Pierluisi asked for funding to last 180 days. 

“I’m confident we’re going to be able to do all you want, governor,” Biden responded.

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