Joe Biden vows US will not walk away from storm-struck Puerto Rico

US President Joe Biden said the full force of the federal government is ready to help Puerto Rico recover from the devastation of Hurricane Fiona.

At a briefing with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials in New York, Mr. Biden said, “We’re all in this together.”

Mr. Biden noted that hundreds of FEMA and other federal officials are already on the scene in Puerto Rico, where Fiona caused an island-wide power outage.

More than 60% of electricity customers were left without power on Thursday and a third of customers were without water – and local officials admitted they couldn’t say when service would be fully restored.

Mr. Biden said his message to the people of Puerto Rico still suffering from Hurricane Maria five years ago is, “We are with you. We won’t go away.”

That seemed to contrast with former President Donald Trump, who has been widely accused of an inadequate response to Maria, leaving some Puerto Ricans without power for 11 months.

The hurricane was expected to still reach Category 4 strength overnight as it passed near Bermuda, where authorities opened shelters and announced closures of schools and offices on Friday.

Fiona’s outer gangs reached British territory as early as Thursday afternoon.

It was expected to still be a large and dangerously powerful storm when it likely reached Canada’s Atlantic provinces late Friday as a post-tropical cyclone.

“It’s going to be a storm that everyone will remember when all is said and done,” said Bob Robichaud, Canadian Hurricane Center alert forecaster.

Hundreds of people in Puerto Rico remained cut off from roads four days after the hurricane hit US territory, and frustration mounted among people like Nancy Galarza, who tried to help workers she spotted in the distance to signal help.

“Everybody go over there,” she said, pointing to the crews at the base of the mountain helping others who were also cut off by the storm.


Neighbors work to recover their belongings after Hurricane Fiona flooded the Los Sotos neighborhood of Higuey, Dominican Republic (Ricardo Hernandez/AP)

“Nobody comes here to see us. I worry about all the elderly in this community.”

At least five landslides covered the narrow road to their community in the steep mountains surrounding the northern city of Caguas. The only way to reach the settlement is to climb over thick mounds of mud, rocks and debris left behind by Fiona, whose floodwaters shook the foundations of nearby houses with earthquake-like force.

At least one elderly woman dependent on oxygen was evacuated Thursday by city officials working in torrential rain to clear pathways to the San Salvador community.

At least eight of 11 communities in Caguas are in complete isolation, said Luis Gonzalez, municipal recovery and reconstruction inspector.

It is one of at least six communities where crews have yet to reach some areas. People there often rely on neighbors for help, as was the case after Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm in 2017 that claimed nearly 3,000 lives.

Puerto Rico’s government said about 62% of its 1.47 million customers were without power Thursday. A third of the customers or more than 400,000 did not have a water connection.

“Too many homes and businesses are still without power,” Mr. Biden said in New York, adding that additional supply crews would travel to the island to help restore power in the coming days.

Puerto Rico’s Electric Energy Authority executive director Josue Colon told a news conference that areas less affected by Fiona should have electricity by Friday morning.

But officials declined to say when power would be restored to the hardest-hit locations, saying they were working first to bring power to hospitals and other essential infrastructure.

Neither local nor federal officials had provided an overall estimate of damage from the storm, which dropped up to 30 inches of rain in some areas.

Fiona has been blamed for at least five deaths so far – two in Puerto Rico, two in the Dominican Republic and one in the French overseas department of Guadeloupe.

Fiona also hit the Turks and Caicos Islands on Tuesday, but officials there reported relatively light damage and no fatalities. Joe Biden vows US will not walk away from storm-struck Puerto Rico

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