President Biden traveled to a ravaged Puerto Rico to tour the island and is set to pivot to Florida tomorrow as frustration builds along with floodwaters.
“I’m heading to Puerto Rico because they haven’t been taken very good care of. They’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,” Biden told reporters before leaving the White House Monday, according to pool reports.
The U.S. territory was still in the process of recovering from the damage done nearly five years ago by Hurricane Maria when last week Hurricane Fiona ripped its way across the island and brought down the entire electrical grid, leaving over 3 million American citizens without power.
Biden’s visit to Puerto Rico comes ahead of a planned stop in Florida on Wednesday, where last week Hurricane Ian grew to Category 4 strength before making landfall. The storm resulted in the deaths of at least 78 people and may prove to be the costliest storm to ever hit the Sunshine State.
FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell told the press Monday that Category 1 Fiona’s financial impact on Puerto Rico and the cost of recovery will run into the billions of dollars. The Federal Emergency Management Agency sent over 1,000 employees to the island to help with recovery, the agency said Monday.
“This is in addition to 700 staff who live and work on the island and the hundreds of trained volunteers who also deployed to assist,” the agency said.
Biden declared an emergency existed on the island ahead of the storm’s impact but upgraded that declaration to a major disaster after the toll of the damage and extent of power losses became apparent.
Biden’s visit comes nearly five years after former President Donald Trump visited Puerto Rico following Category 5 Hurricane Maria, a storm that resulted in the deaths of over 3,000 people, many well after the weather had cleared due to power outages and lack of access to emergency services.
As of Monday, about 92% of power had been restored to the island, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters. Criswell told reporters FEMA did not know how long it would take for full service to be restored.
“I do not have an estimate. What I know is that we are working into some of the hardest-hit areas, and it’s about getting to the homes that are in some of the mountainous regions where they have accessibility issues because so many roads were washed out, and it’s getting to those house-by-house pieces now to make sure each house can receive power so we can then get to that 100 percent goal,” she said.
The country is dealing with 462 declared disasters, according to FEMA.
“Nearly 10,000 staff are deployed to 462 disasters across the country, to communities that need our help. This includes 520 personnel in Kentucky for flooding, 221 in Missouri for severe storms, 891 in Puerto Rico for Hurricane Fiona and 789 in Florida for Hurricane Ian,” the agency said.
Herald wire services contributed to this report.