Biden vows US won’t walk away from storm-struck Puerto Rico

Biden Delivering SpeechSAN SALVADOR, Puerto Rico (AP) — President Joe Biden said Thursday the full force of the federal government is ready to help Puerto Rico recover from the devastation of Hurricane Fiona even as Bermuda and Canada’s Atlantic provinces were preparing for a major blast from the Category 4 storm.

Speaking at a briefing with Federal Emergency Management Agency officials in New York, Biden said, “We’re all in this together.”

Biden noted that hundreds of FEMA and other federal officials are already on the ground.

He said his message to the people of Puerto Rico who are still hurting from Hurricane Maria five years ago is, “We’re with you. We’re not going to walk away.”

The hurricane was expected to still be at Category 4 force overnight when it passes close to Bermuda, where authorities there were opening shelters and announced schools and offices would be closed on Friday.

Fiona’s outer bands were already reaching the British territory in early afternoon.

It’s expected to still be a large and dangerously potent when it reaches Canada’s Atlantic provinces, likely late Friday, as a post-tropical cyclone.

“It’s going to be a storm that everyone remembers when it is all said and done,” said Bob Robichaud, warning preparedness meteorologist for the Canadian Hurricane Centre.

Hundreds of people in Puerto Rico remained cut off by road four days after the hurricane ripped into the U.S. territory, and frustration was mounting for people like Nancy Galarza, who tried to signal for help from work crews she spotted in the distance.

“Everyone goes over there,” she said pointing toward crews at the bottom of the mountain who were helping others also cut off by the storm. “No one comes here to see us. I am worried for all the elderly people in this community.”

At least five landslides cover the narrow road to her community in the steep mountains around the northern town of Caguas. The only way to reach the settlement is to climb over thick hills of mud, rock and debris left by Fiona, whose floodwaters shook the the foundations of nearby homes with earthquake-like force.

At least eight of 11 communities in Caguas are completely isolated, said Luis González, municipal inspector of recovery and reconstruction. It’s one of at least six municipalities where crews have yet to reach some areas. People there often depend on help from neighbors, as they did following Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm in 2017 that killed nearly 3,000 people.

Miguel Veguilla said that in Maria’s aftermath he used picks and shovels to clear debris. But Fiona was different, unleashing huge landslides.

“I cannot throw those rocks over my shoulder,” he said.

Like hundreds of thousands in Puerto Rico, Veguilla has no water or electricity service, but said there is a natural water source nearby.

Fiona caused an island-wide blackout and some 62% of 1.47 million customers remained without power Thursday. A third of customers, or more than 400,000, did not yet have water service.

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

The executive director of Puerto Rico’s Electric Energy Authority, Josué Colón, 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 places and said they were working first to get energy to hospitals and other key infrastructure.

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

The U.S. center said Fiona had maximum sustained winds of 130 mph on Thursday. It was centered about 345 miles southwest of Bermuda, heading north-northeast at 16 mph.

Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 70 miles from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extended outward up to 205 miles.

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