President Joe Biden arrived in Puerto Rico on Monday to survey the damage from Hurricane Fiona and announce more than $60 million in additional funding to help the U.S. territory prepare for future storms, which are only expected to become stronger and more frequent with climate change.
“Somehow the people of Puerto Rico keep getting back up with resilience and determination,” Biden said in Ponce, which was pummeled by more than 30 inches of rain when the storm hit in mid-September. “We’re going to make sure you get every single dollar promised.”
Hurricane Fiona knocked out 100% of the power on Puerto Rico and brought the island its worst flooding since the devastating Hurricane Maria in 2017. While most people have regained power, more than 137,000 others are still in the dark, and 66,000 are still without water.
The $60 million in additional funding Biden announced Monday will be put toward shoring up levees, strengthening flood walls and creating a new flood warning system.
“We know that the climate crisis and more extreme weather are going to continue to hit this island and hit the United States overall, and as we rebuild, we have to ensure that we build it to last,” the president said.
“We are not leaving here, as long as I’m president ― and I mean this sincerely ― until every single thing we can do is done,” Biden vowed.
It was one of several apparent nods to the way his predecessor, Donald Trump, fumbled relief for Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, repeatedly downplaying the death toll and denying any of his administration’s shortcomings. In one of the more bizarre moments from his time in office, Trump chucked rolls of paper towels at a crowd in San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital city, while millions of people went without power.
“I’m heading to Puerto Rico because they haven’t been taken very good care of,” Biden told reporters as he left the White House for Ponce.
Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi also alluded to those issues before Biden took the mic in Ponce.
“In short, my asks to you, Mr. President, are straightforward: We want to be treated in the same way as our fellow Americans in the states in times of need,” he said.
Pierluisi asked Biden to extend the Hurricane Fiona disaster declaration for another 180 days to cover the cost of debris removal and other recovery efforts ― which Biden said he is “confident” can be done.
Damage in Puerto Rico from Fiona is currently estimated at $3 billion, but officials expect that figure to rise as assessments continue. The catastrophic rains and flooding killed at least 21 people, set off more than 100 landslides around the island and destroyed major roads and bridges.