Disasters & Accidents

Biden promises to rebuild Puerto Rico quickly, strengthen it vs. hurricanes

(Update 1: Adds Biden’s remarks in Puerto Rico)

Ponce, Puerto Rico, Oct 3 (EFE).- President Joe Biden on Monday in Puerto Rico promised that US aid to help the island recover from Hurricane Fiona will arrive without delay with the aim of rebuilding infrastructure “faster” and making it more “resilient” against new hurricanes.

On his first visit to Puerto Rico as president, a visit scheduled to last about three hours, the president focused on inspecting the damage caused by Fiona and showing his “commitment” to the island, which earlier he said he felt had not received the necessary US support or that aid had arrived late.

“We came here in person to show that we’re with you. All of America is with you as you receive and recover and rebuild,” Biden stressed during remarks delivered in Ponce, later going on to say that “We’re going to make sure you get every single dollar promised.”

After Hurricane Maria in 2017, which killed some 3,000 people on the island and wreaked widespread devastation, millions of dollars in federal funds were approved to help the island recover, but the distribution of those funds was delayed by three years, and thus the projects they were intended to fund have only been 25 percent completed.

“Somehow the people of Puerto Rico keep getting back up with resilience and determination,” Biden said, adding that “I’m determined to help Puerto Rico build faster than in the past and (be) stronger and better prepared for the future.”

Biden said that the reconstruction should be done in a “resilient” way and with the aim of ensuring that when another storm hits, the level of damage that was experienced before does not recur.

To do that, he officially announced more than $60 million in funds to strengthen dikes and walls and to create a warning system to mitigate damage from flooding when new hurricanes strike.

He also listed as priorities the reconstruction of the island’s infrastructure, roads and ports and the modernization of the electricity grid, the fragility of which was once again made evident during Fiona, which knocked the entire grid offline causing a general island-wide blackout.

Fiona killed at least 25 people in Puerto Rico, most of them indirectly, and the damage noted by authorities was catastrophic, a situation that motivated Biden to declare a state of emergency there.

“You deserve every bit of help your country can give you,” said Biden, the seventh US president to make an official visit to the island.

The president was accompanied by first lady Jill Biden, Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi, Ponce city Mayor Luis Irizarry, the island’s resident commissioner in Washington Jenniffer Gonzalez, and Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, among other officials.

Biden was quickly briefed on the island’s reconstruction process and visited the Sister Isolina Ferre Aguayo Center, where he met with families and community leaders affected by the hurricane.

The executive director of Puerto Rico’s Central Office for Recovery, Reconstruction and Resiliency (COR3), Manuel Laboy, told EFE in Ponce that he was “pleased” with the result of the visit because Biden “committed himself to Puerto Rico.”

Laboy said that Biden was asked, after Fiona, “Let’s not go for years but rather just weeks (reviewing) the impacted projects to get them running immediately,” as well as reviewing the fixed cost estimates of those projects because Fiona “changed the game.”

Although during his speech Biden acknowledged that past aid had not arrived in a timely way, before arriving on the island on Monday he told reporters that Puerto Rico has not “been taken very good care of. They’ve been trying like hell to catch up from the last hurricane.”

His predecessor in the White House, Republican Donald Trump, showed considerable lack of interest in or respect for Puerto Rico, going to far as to assert during a visit to the island in 2017 that the disaster caused by Hurricane Maria earlier that year was not “a real catastrophe” like Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and he threw rolls of paper towels to the crowd, a move that sparked significant outrage on the island.

Since then, Puerto Rico’s slow recovery has also been affected by the earthquakes of 2020, which especially impacted Ponce, and now Hurricane Fiona.

In that regard, Gov. Pierluisi emphasized in his own speech at the port of Ponce the “firm support” of the Biden administration, which he said had been demonstrated with “concrete action.”

Pierluisi also asked that the emergency period be extended from 30 to 180 days during which repairs would be paid 100 percent by the federal government.

Related Articles

Back to top button