Biden tells storm-hit Puerto Rico: 'America's with you' | Inquirer News

Biden tells storm-hit Puerto Rico: ‘America’s with you’

/ 06:58 AM October 04, 2022
US President Joe Biden, flanked by First Lady Jill Biden and Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi, delivers remarks in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona in Ponce, Puerto Rico, on October 3, 2022. - Biden flew to Puerto Rico on Monday to inspect storm damage, saying in a veiled jab at his predecessor Donald Trump that the territory had not "been taken very good care of" during a crippling series of past hurricanes. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP)

US President Joe Biden, flanked by First Lady Jill Biden and Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi, delivers remarks in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona in Ponce, Puerto Rico, on October 3, 2022. Biden flew to Puerto Rico on Monday to inspect storm damage, saying in a veiled jab at his predecessor Donald Trump that the territory had not “been taken very good care of” during a crippling series of past hurricanes. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP)

Ponce, Puerto Rico — President Joe Biden toured hurricane-devastated areas of Puerto Rico on Monday, promising the sometimes overlooked US territory that this time, “America’s with you.”

The president and First Lady Jill Biden — who on Wednesday will also visit the devastation caused by deadly Hurricane Ian in Florida — headed to Ponce, on the south coast of Puerto Rico, pounded by Hurricane Fiona last month.

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“We came here in person to show we’re with you –- all of America’s with you,” he said in televised remarks. “I am committed to this island.”

Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre described Ponce as “the hardest hit area of Puerto Rico” and “an area where people have lost almost everything.”

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More than two weeks after Hurricane Fiona passed over, thousands of people on the island, which is American but not a state, remain without power. Officials said at least seven percent of customers are still without electricity and five percent without water.

Biden announced $60 million to strengthen storm defenses, including flood barricades and warning systems — all on top of hundreds of millions of dollars in new budgeting made possible by the huge infrastructure spending bill passed by the Democratic-led Congress last year.

To Puerto Ricans skeptical of the sometimes distant federal government, Biden insisted: “We’re going to make sure you get every single dollar promised.”

Not everyone on the ground was buying the pitch.

“I’ve not been interested in watching the news or following the president’s visit,” said retiree Nixa Sanabria, 66, from Catano in the north. “It’s the usual political talk to sell the idea to folks that we’ll be given this or that — and then nothing happens.”

Trump’s paper towels 

But the visit was part of a message from the Biden administration that the government is taking responsibility, in contrast to Donald Trump, who publicly fought with the island’s leadership and even suggested in 2018 that death tolls from hurricanes were manipulated to make him look “bad.”

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Biden’s stop in Puerto Rico came five years to the day that Trump stopped by in the wake of the especially destructive 2017 Hurricane Maria.

In a quickly viral moment, Trump shocked local people by  jovially tossing rolls of paper kitchen towels, basketball style, into a crowd of residents whose lives had been turned upside down by flooding and damage.

The mayor of the capital San Juan at the time called Trump’s behavior “abominable.”

Departing for Puerto Rico, Biden told reporters that the island hadn’t  “been taken very good care of” in the past. And in Ponce, he insisted that things were now different.

“Times like these, our nation comes together, (we) put aside political differences and get to work. We show up,” Biden said.

Deanne Criswell, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said that mayors on the island she had spoken to “finally feel like this administration cares for them.”

US First Lady Jill Biden participates in a community service project to help those impacted by Hurricane Fiona at Centro Sor Isolina Ferre Aguayo School in Ponce, Puerto Rico, October 3, 2022.

US First Lady Jill Biden participates in a community service project to help those impacted by Hurricane Fiona at Centro Sor Isolina Ferre Aguayo School in Ponce, Puerto Rico, October 3, 2022. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP)

Test of leadership 

The annual hurricanes often cut a ruinous path from the Caribbean up over Puerto Rico and Cuba or the Bahamas before hitting Florida.

Florida officials said the latest death count from Hurricane Ian was now at least 58, while another four deaths have been recorded in North Carolina.

In Puerto Rico, 25 deaths have been linked to Hurricane Fiona, according to the island’s public health department, which is still investigating how 12 of the fatalities occurred.

The entire US territory lost power and about one million people were left temporarily without drinking water, when Fiona — then a Category 1 storm — hammered the island in mid-September.

Biden quickly declared a state of emergency, freeing up federal funds and expertise.

Island residents have complained of being ignored by Washington after previous disasters, including the hit from twin hurricanes, Irma and Maria, in 2017.

US authorities — federal, state and local — are often judged by the effectiveness of their response to such disasters.

After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Gulf coast, critics castigated then-president George W. Bush after photos showed him surveying damage while flying high overhead.

RELATED STORY:

Biden heads to storm-hit Puerto Rico

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