Biden: US won’t walk away from storm-hit Puerto Rico

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SAN SALVADOR, Puerto Rico (AP) — President Joe Biden said Thursday the full force of the federal government stands ready to help Puerto Rico recover from the devastation of Hurricane Fiona, while Bermuda and the Atlantic provinces of Canada were preparing for a major outburst of category 4 storm.

Speaking during 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 in Puerto Rico, where Fiona caused an island-wide blackout.

More than 60% of electricity customers were left without power on Thursday, and a third of customers were without water – and local officials admitted they could not say when service would be fully restored.

Biden said his message to the people of Puerto Rico still suffering from Hurricane Maria five years ago is: “We are with you. We’re not going away. »

That seemed to contrast with former President Donald Trump, widely blamed for an inadequate response to Maria, which left some Puerto Ricans without power for 11 months.

The hurricane was still expected to be Category 4 in strength overnight when it passed near Bermuda, where authorities opened shelters and announced that schools and offices would be closed on Friday.

The outer bands of Fiona were already reaching British territory on Thursday afternoon.

It was expected to still be a large and dangerously powerful storm when it made landfall in Atlantic Canada, likely late Friday, as a post-tropical cyclone.

“This will be a storm that everyone will remember when all is said and done,” said Bob Robichaud, warning preparedness meteorologist for the Canadian Hurricane Center.

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

“Everyone is going out there,” she said, pointing to crews at the base of the mountain helping others also cut off by the storm. “No one comes here to see us. I am concerned for all the seniors in this community.

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

“The rocks sounded like thunder,” recalls Vanessa Flores, a 47-year-old school janitor. “I’ve never heard of that in my life. It was horrible.”

At least one elderly woman who is dependent on oxygen was evacuated Thursday by city officials who were working in the pouring rain to clear paths to the community of San Salvador.

Ramiro Figueroa, 63, said his bedridden 97-year-old father refused to leave the house despite the insistence of rescue teams. Their path was blocked by mud, rocks, trees and his sister’s pickup truck, which rolled down the hill during the storm.

National Guard troops and others brought water, cereal, canned peaches and two bottles of apple juice.

“It helped me tremendously,” Figueroa said as he walked through the devastated landscape, where a river had changed course and torn the community apart.

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

Miguel Veguilla said that following Maria, he used pickaxes and shovels to clear the debris. But Fiona was different, triggering huge landslides.

“I can’t throw these stones over my shoulder,” he said.

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

Danciel Rivera, 31, arrived in rural Caguas with a religious group and tried to bring some joy by dressing up as a clown.

“It’s very important in these times,” he said, noting that people never fully recovered from Hurricane Maria. “A lot of PTSDs have popped up these days.”

His huge clown shoes squashed in the mud as he greeted people, whose faces lit up when they smiled at him.

The Puerto Rico government said about 62% of 1.47 million customers were without power as of Thursday. A third of customers, more than 400,000, did not yet have a water service.

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

Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority executive director Josué Colón told a news conference that areas less affected by Fiona should have power 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 provide power to hospitals and other key infrastructure.

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

The US center said Fiona had maximum sustained winds of 130 mph (215 km/h) late Thursday afternoon. It was centered about 280 miles (455 kilometers) west-southwest of Bermuda, heading north-northeast at 20 mph (31 km/h).

Hurricane-force winds extended up to 70 miles (110 kilometers) from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extended up to 205 miles (335 kilometers).

Bermuda Premier David Burt sent out a tweet urging residents to “take care of yourself and your family. Don’t forget to check in and watch your elders, family, and neighbors. Be careful.”

The Canadian Hurricane Center has issued a hurricane watch over large stretches of the coast of Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island.

Hurricanes in Canada are quite rare, in part because once the storms reach colder waters, they lose their main source of energy. and become extratropical. These cyclones can still have hurricane-force winds, but now have a cold core instead of a warm core and no visible eyes. Their shape can also be different. They lose their symmetrical shape and may look more like a comma.

So far, Fiona has been charged with at least five deaths – two in Puerto Rico, two in the Dominican Republic and one in the French overseas department of Guadeloupe.

Fiona also hit the Turks and Caicos Islands on Tuesday, but authorities reported relatively light damage and no fatalities.

Associated Press writers Zeke Miller in Washington, Seth Borenstein in New York, Rob Gillies in Toronto, and Maricarmen Rivera Sánchez in San Juan, Puerto Rico, contributed to this report.



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