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Biden to Puerto Rico: We're With You 10/03 06:05

10/3/2022 - 06:06:00

Biden to Puerto Rico: We're With You   10/03 06:05

   President Joe Biden on Monday will survey damage from Hurricane Fiona in 
Puerto Rico, where tens of thousands of people are still without power two 
weeks after the storm hit.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Joe Biden on Monday will survey damage from 
Hurricane Fiona in Puerto Rico, where tens of thousands of people are still 
without power two weeks after the storm hit.

   The Category 1 hurricane knocked out electrical power to the U.S. territory 
of 3.2 million people, 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 struggle in the dark. Another 66,000 
customers are without water.

   Biden has pledged that the U.S. government will not abandon Puerto Rico as 
it starts to rebuild again, five years after the more powerful Hurricane Maria 
devastated the island in 2017.

   During his visit, Biden planned to announce the administration will provide 
$60 million through last year's bipartisan infrastructure law 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.

   "We see what you're going through, and we're with you," Biden told Puerto 
Ricans and Floridians in a message Sunday on his official Twitter account.

   Florida is cleaning up after Hurricane Ian churned across that state last 
week, killing more than 60 people, decimating some coastal communities and 
flooding others. Biden plans to visit Florida on Wednesday to survey damage.

   The president, accompanied by first lady Jill Biden and Deanne Criswell, the 
Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator, was to touch down Monday in 
Ponce, Puerto Rico, a city on the southern coast. Most of the storm damage is 
in southern Puerto Rico.

   Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi said he would update Biden on recovery 
efforts.

   "We will make sure to keep working together to ensure the continuity of a 
reconstruction already underway," the governor tweeted on Sunday.

   Fiona caused catastrophic flooding, tore apart roads and bridges, and 
unleashed more than 100 landslides when it hit Puerto Rico on Sept. 18. At 
least two people died after being swept away by floods, and several others were 
killed in accidents related to the use of candles or generator during the 
island-wide power outage.

   Government officials have estimated some $3 billion in damages, but warn 
that costs could rise significantly as evaluations continue.

   Some people in Puerto Rico wondered whether Biden's visit would change 
anything as they recalled how President Donald Trump visited after Hurricane 
Maria hit as a more powerful Category 4 storm in 2017, and tossed rolls of 
paper towels into a crowd in a display that riled many.

   Manuel Veguilla, a 63-year-old retired mechanic who lives in a remote 
community in the hard-hit northern mountain town of Caguas, said he didn't 
expect his life to improve in the aftermath of Fiona, which cut off his 
neighborhood from any help for a week.

   "They always offer the lollipop to the kids," he said, referring to Biden's 
visit. "But in the end, the outcome is always the same. The aid 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 have not left Puerto Rico," she said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

   Criswell said on ABC's "This Week" that FEMA personnel were sent to the 
island before the storm hit and that "they're going to stay with the people of 
Puerto Rico" through the recovery efforts.

   Biden recently told Pierluisi that he authorized 100% federal funding for a 
month for debris removal, search and rescue efforts, power and water 
restoration, shelter and food.

   The lack of electrical power on the island led to the temporary closure of 
businesses, including gas stations and grocery stores, as fuel supplies 
dwindled amid heavy generator use. As a result, many cheered the Biden 
administration's decision to temporarily waive a federal law so that a British 
Petroleum ship could deliver 300,000 barrels of diesel.

   Many also have begun demanding that Puerto Rico be fully exempted from the 
law, known as the Jones Act, that requires that all goods transported to Puerto 
Rico be aboard a ship built in the U.S., owned and crewed by U.S. citizens and 
flying the U.S. flag. This drives up costs for an island that already imports 
85% of its food.

   Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., also said Puerto Ricans would not be forgotten.

   Rubio said the island appeared to be "in better position to respond this 
time around" due to the prepositioning of personnel and supplies before the 
storm hit and because part of Puerto Rico's electrical grid had been rebuilt 
after Hurricane Maria.

   "We will do everything we can, we always have, to support Puerto Rico now in 
the recovery after this, yet another devastating storm," Rubio said on CNN's 
"State of the Union."