PONS, Puerto Rico ( Associated Press) — US President Joe Biden vowed Monday to “rebuild everything” after arriving in Puerto Rico, where thousands remain without power two weeks after Hurricane Fiona and residents fear His dedication to recovery from Washington may be temporary.
“I am committed to this island,” he said after being informed by local officials, acknowledging that Fiona was the latest in a series of disasters that have struck Puerto Rico in recent years.
“Puerto Ricans are a strong people,” Biden insisted. “But even then, they have had to do much, much more than necessary, and they have not received timely assistance.”
Damage from Hurricane Fiona, which created an even more powerful hurricane just five years after Hurricane Maria, will test the government’s ability to help the island’s 3.2 million people recover and strengthen their defenses. Puerto Rico has a higher poverty rate than any other state in the United States, and remains vulnerable to storms, which have become more intense and frequent as climate change continues.
“What happened with this storm is that even though it was a Category 1, it was more like a Category 4 in terms of waters,” Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierlusi told Biden.
Fiona made landfall on September 18, causing power outages across the island. Although electricity service has been restored for about 90% of the 1.47 million customers, more than 137,000, most in the South and West, remain without electricity. Another 66,000 customers do not have drinking water.
The weather remained pleasant as Biden made the comment. Thunder was heard and lightning flashed far and wide.
“I don’t want the headline to say: ‘Biden brings up a storm in Puerto Rico,'” he joked. “So maybe I’ll have to shorten it a little bit.”
Biden announced that the United States government would provide $60 million through infrastructure legislation approved last year to help reinforce Puerto Rico, strengthen flood retaining walls, and build a new flood warning system to help support Puerto Rico. To better prepare the island for future storms.
Puerto Rico is not the only corner of the country affected by disasters. Clean-up efforts are underway in Florida after Hurricane Ian last week, which killed more than 60 people, destroyed some coastal communities and flooded others. Biden plans to visit Florida on Wednesday to assess the damage.
“In times like these, our country comes together, sets aside our political differences and gets to work,” Biden said.
The president was also joined by First Lady Jill Biden, who volunteers at a hot school gym. She helped fill plastic bags with canned goods, fruit cups, snack packs and rice. Bottled water packets were kept on the walls.
After landing in Ponce, a town on the island’s south coast, Biden spent a few hours on the ground seeing less storm damage.
Fiona caused devastating flooding, destroyed roads and bridges, and caused more than 100 landslides in Puerto Rico. At least two people died after being swept away by flood waters, and several others lost their lives in accidents related to the use of candles or generators during widespread blackouts on the island.
Government officials estimated the damage to be around $3 billion, but the cost of the warning could increase significantly if assessments continue.
Superville reported from Washington. San Juan to Coto. Associated Press writer Chris Megarian contributed to this report from Washington.