President Biden said Thursday the administration will be “laser-focused” on helping Puerto Rico recover from Hurricane Fiona and is dispatching the chief of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to ensure the island gets “everything they could possibly need.”
Mr. Biden told Gov. Pedro Pierluisi that the federal government will pick up 100% of the costs of debris removal, search and rescue efforts, power and water restoration and food and shelter for the next month.
“There is no cost at all, governor, to you,” he said at a FEMA regional office in New York City. “100% funding.”
Mr. Biden highlighted Fiona’s impacts and repeatedly cited the after-effects of the last major storm, Hurricane Maria, which killed thousands on the island and caused friction with the Trump administration.
“We’re laser-focused on what’s happening to the people of Puerto Rico again,” Mr. Biden said. “Five years after Hurricane Maria.”
The first major storm of the hurricane season, Fiona left 1 million homes and businesses in Puerto Rico without power and was churning toward Bermuda as a Category 4 storm on Friday. It may impact the Canadian province of Nova Scotia as the weekend approaches.
The storm has killed at least eight people across Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Guadeloupe.
Mr. Biden said he is sending FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell to survey the damage and praying for those who died and “all the people displaced, all the people who are just scared to death, knowing what happened before.”
Mr. Biden late Wednesday declared a major disaster from the impacts of Fiona on Puerto Rico, clearing the way for federal aid to supplement local recovery efforts.
The president highlighted efforts to get teams on the ground and supply water to island residents, though acknowledged there were challenges ahead.
“Too many homes and businesses are still without power, without clean drinking water,” he said. “This is really important to us. We’re not going to walk away.”
The island is a U.S. territory, not a state. Its status and questions about local management of the power grid and finances have resulted in friction with Washington in the past.
Island officials in 2017 accused former President Donald Trump of being slow to aid them after Hurricane Maria and then withholding aid.
Mr. Trump famously tossed paper towels into the crowd during a visit to the island, feuded with the San Juan mayor and said his administration’s response was an “unsung success” because the island had underlying problems before the storm hit.
This time around, Democratic leaders are going out of their way to show support for the island.
New York CIty Mayor Eric Adams, a Democrat who joined Mr. Biden‘s briefing, sent a team of emergency managers to the island territory and highlighted the large number of Puerto Ricans who live in his city. Some officials dubbed the island the “sixth borough to the south.”
“With Hurricane Fiona leaving the region, we know that this is a painful moment for so many here in our city and across the globe,” Mr. Adams said Wednesday. “New York City stands with our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and all affected countries.