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‘We are all in this together’: Biden tells Puerto Ricans they’re not alone after Fiona

Sept. 22, 2022 Updated Thu., Sept. 22, 2022 at 7:18 p.m.

A man stands near a flooded road during the passage of Hurricane Fiona in Villa Blanca, Puerto Rico, on Sunday. On Thursday, President Joe Biden announced the federal government will be funding a recovery effort.  (Getting Images)
A man stands near a flooded road during the passage of Hurricane Fiona in Villa Blanca, Puerto Rico, on Sunday. On Thursday, President Joe Biden announced the federal government will be funding a recovery effort. (Getting Images)
By Omar Rodriguez Ortiz Miami Herald

MIAMI – President Joe Biden on Thursday announced the federal government will be fully funding a month-long recovery effort in Puerto Rico – including power and water restoration costs – following the widespread destruction left behind by Hurricane Fiona.

Biden made the announcement in New York during a virtual briefing with officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the government of the U.S. territory. He added that the 100% federally-funded recovery efforts will also cover the expenditures of search and rescue operations, food, shelter and debris removal.

“We are all in this together,” Biden said.

FEMA also announced earlier Thursday that residents in 55 of Puerto Rico’s 78 towns will be able to apply for federal assistance that can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-interest loans to cover uninsured property losses and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster. But some of the hardest hit areas in the west and southwest of Puerto Rico – including Cabo Rojo where Hurricane Fiona made landfall Sunday – were not initially included for individual federal aid.

This decision took some Puerto Ricans by surprise.

“If the damage and rainfall in San Juan on the opposite side of the island was enough to qualify for individual assistance, then by definition the damage and rainfall in Cabo Rojo and Lajas must be too,” Twitter user Diane Marie Camacho wrote. “Absolutely no rational basis for this.”

Puerto Rican officials told reporters Thursday during a daily news conference that FEMA and local officials will work together to inspect the damages in the western and southwestern municipalities with hopes to include them in FEMA’s Individual Assistance Program. After Biden’s brief, Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi said Thursday afternoon on Facebook that the western municipalities of Mayaguez, Hormigueros and Anasco will be included in the program.

Significant flooding affected the western and southwestern towns of Cabo Rojo, Mayaguez and Hormigueros, among others, where five to 16 inches of rain were estimated to have fallen from Friday afternoon to Monday morning, according to the National Weather Service in San Juan. Despite other areas in the central-east and south receiving more than 30 inches, the island’s southern and southwestern towns received a lot of rain in a shorter span.

“It’s not the same to receive one inch of rain in one hour than one inch in five,” weather service meteorologist Carlos Anselmi-Molina told The Miami Herald on Thursday.

Many of these municipalities have been without power for four days, and on Thursday the weather service issued heat advisories and warnings for most coastal towns. NASA satellite photos from earlier in the day show that large swaths of Puerto Rico’s western and southern coasts are still in the dark, said Miguel O. Roman, Chief Climate Scientist at Leidos and NASA’s Science Team leader for the MODIS and VIIRS instruments. Only 38% of 1.5 million customers had power service as of Thursday morning, according to the Puerto Rican government and private power utility operator LUMA Energy. And roughly 67% customers had running water while 37,657, or 32.96%, did not.

Only 89 of Puerto Rico’s 827 schools were scheduled to restart classes Thursday, mainly because of the lack of power and running water.

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