Biden Won’t Throw Paper Towels At Puerto Rico: ‘We’re Not Going To Walk Away’

After dropping more than two feet of rain on parts of Puerto Rico Sunday, causing massive flooding and knocking out electricity to all the island’s 3.3 million residents, Hurricane Fiona is headed north. Yesterday, it came close to Bermuda as a Category 4 storm with high winds and heavy rain; schools and government offices are closed today. Fiona is now a Category 3 hurricane, and is expected to hit Canada sometime tonight, with storm surge, heavy rains, and damaging winds affecting Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

Puerto Rico is still slowly digging out from the flooding caused by Fiona, almost exactly five years after the island was devastated by Hurricane Maria and then largely ignored by Donald Trump because what good were Puerto Ricans to him politically? Even if they could vote in presidential elections, they’d vote for Democrats anyway, such terrible ungrateful people.

Yesterday, at a briefing with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, President Joe Biden told Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi via video link that the administration is “bringing the full force of the federal government to respond” to Puerto Rico’s needs. Biden said his administration would stay focused on the recovery “until this is done and we recover,” and offered his sympathies to

all the people displaced and all the people who are just scared to death, knowing what happened before. Especially if you’ve been through it last time, it’s got to be incredibly intimidating.

In a pretty direct acknowledgement of how shabbily Trump had treated Puerto Rico, Biden added,

To the people of Puerto Rico who are still hurting from Hurricane Maria five years later, I know that we’re — they — they should know that this — we are with you. We’re not going to walk away. We mean it.


Biden also announced several concrete steps the administration is taking, noting that on Wednesday he’d approved an expedited “major disaster” declaration that will provide far greater federal aid than the initial “disaster” declaration he’d approved Sunday. Biden said that help to restore utilities is on the way from mainland utility companies as well as from FEMA, and also announced that the federal government would cover 100 percent of the costs of “debris removal, search and rescue, power and water restoration, and shelter and food” for the next month, instead of the conventional cost-sharing arrangement typical in federal disaster response. Politico notes that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) had requested that assistance, since the territory couldn’t come up with half the costs.

The declaration will also free up money for grants to repair homes and businesses, as well as temporary housing and help for uninsured property losses.

Restoration of electrical service is proceeding more quickly than after Hurricane Maria in 2017, largely because Maria had far more powerful winds that knocked down power lines and transmission towers all over the island. Damage from Fiona has primarily resulted from the insane amounts of water the storm dumped, which caused flooding that washed out roads and bridges.

In 2017, it took nearly a year for all parts of Puerto Rico to have electric service restored. Power is coming back more quickly following Fiona, but only about 40 percent of homes have electricity as of Friday morning. Roughly a million Puerto Ricans lack electricity, and since water pumps rely on the grid, about a third of homes also lack clean drinking water.

LUMA energy, which manages the power grid, said Wednesday that “full restoration [of power] could take several days.” The lack of power is especially miserable because high temperatures and humidity have followed the storm, leaving people sweltering with no air conditioning.

Daniel Hernández, director of renewable projects at LUMA, explained critical places including hospitals will be prioritized before repairs can begin on an individual level.

“This is a normal process. The important thing is that everyone is calm … we are working to ensure that 100% of customers have service as soon as possible,” Hernández said.

This time around, no contracts will be going to sketchy companies in Montana, at least, so here’s hoping the people of Puerto Rico get relief soon.

Jose Reyes, the adjutant general in command of Puerto Rico’s Army and Air National Guard, told Politico that he’s seen

a “really big difference” in government preparations for Hurricane Maria in 2017 compared with those efforts ahead of Fiona.

“I see a very robust state-federal coordination prior and during the emergency,” he said. “And I see the results because it’s more expedited support for the people of Puerto Rico where it’s needed, more synchronized instead of stepping on somebody’s toes.”

Politico also reports that efforts to build out solar power and battery systems for schools in Puerto Rico has already seen benefits following Fiona; about 50 of the 150 schools upgraded in that project are serving as emergency shelters in their communities, and the lights and AC are on.

That said, a lot of people are still hurting and waiting for help. If you can spare some money to help out folks in Puerto Rico, NPR has a list of nonprofits that are helping out the island now.

And to readers in Eastern Canada, we hope you’re all safe and ready for heavy winds and rain. Make sure you get your emergency kit together, and what are you doing reading Wonkette right now when your local authorities have the most up to the date information? Stay safe, eh?!

[CNN / Reuters / NBC News / AP / White House / Politico / NPR where to help / CBC / Government of Canada]

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