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

SAN SALVADOR, Puerto Rico – President Joe Biden said Thursday that the full force of the federal government is ready to help Puerto Rico recover from Hurricane Fiona’s devastation, while Bermuda and Canada’s Atlantic provinces are reeling from the Category 4 storm. Ready for a big bang.

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

Biden noted that hundreds of FEMA and other federal officials are already in Puerto Rico, where Fiona caused blackouts across the island.

More than 60% of electricity customers remained without power on Thursday, and a third 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 reeling from Hurricane Maria five years ago: “We’re with you. We’re not going away.”

That appears to be in contrast to former President Donald Trump, who was widely accused of an inadequate response to Maria, which left some Puerto Ricans without power for 11 months.

The hurricane was expected to remain at Category 4 strength overnight as it passed near Bermuda, where authorities opened shelters and announced the closure of schools and offices on Friday.

Fiona’s outer bands were already reaching British territory by Thursday afternoon.

It was still expected to be a large and dangerously powerful storm when it reached Canada’s Atlantic provinces, possibly late Friday, as a post-tropical storm.

“This is going to be a storm that everyone will remember when it’s all said and done,” said Bob Robichaud, Canadian Hurricane Center warning preparedness meteorologist.

Hundreds of people remained off the road in Puerto Rico four days after the hurricane hit the U.S. territory, and desperation was mounting for people like Nancy Galarza, who tried to signal for help from work crews she called. Seen in the distance.

“Everybody goes there,” he said, pointing to crews down 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 elders in this community.

At least five landslides covered his community’s narrow road in the steep hills surrounding the northern town of Caguas. The only way to reach the settlement is to climb the thick mounds of mud, rock and debris left behind by Fiona, whose floodwaters shook the foundations of nearby houses with earthquake-like force.

“It sounded like rocks thundering,” recalled Vanessa Flores, a 47-year-old school janitor. “I’ve never heard anything like that in my life. It was terrifying.”

At least one elderly woman dependent on oxygen was rescued Thursday by city officials who were working in the rain to clear streets in the San Salvador community.

Ramiro Figueroa, 63, said his bedridden 97-year-old father refused to leave the house despite the insistence of rescue workers. Their road was blocked by mud, rocks, trees and his sister’s pickup, which had been swept down a hill during the storm.

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

“It has helped me a lot,” Figueroa said as he scanned the ravaged landscape, where a river had changed course and torn the community apart.

At least eight of the 11 communities in Caguas are completely isolated, said Luis González, municipal inspector of rehabilitation and reconstruction. It is one of at least six municipalities where crews are still unable to reach some areas. People there often rely on help from neighbors, as they did in 2017 after Category 4 Hurricane Maria killed nearly 3,000 people.

Miguel Veguilla said he used picks and shovels to clear debris after Maria. But Fiona was different, causing massive landslides.

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

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

Dancell Rivera, 31, arrived in rural Cagos with a church group and tried to bring a little cheer by dressing up as a clown.

“It’s very important in these moments,” he said, adding that people had never fully recovered from Hurricane Maria. “A lot of PTSD rears its head these days.”

His big clown shoes sank through the mud as he greeted people, whose faces beamed at him with smiles.

Puerto Rico’s government said 62 percent of 1.47 million customers remained without power Thursday. A third of consumers, or more than 400,000, still do not have water service.

“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 in the coming days to help restore power.

Puerto Rico’s Electric Energy Authority Executive Director Josue Cullen 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 worst-hit areas, saying they were working first to bring power to hospitals and other key infrastructure.

Neither local nor federal government officials provided a total estimate of damage from the storm, which dumped up to 30 inches of rain in some areas.

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

Hurricane-force winds extend 70 miles (110 km) outward from the center, and tropical storm winds extend 205 miles (335 km) outward.

Bermuda Prime Minister David Burt sent out a tweet urging residents to “take care of yourselves and your families. Let’s remember to check on everyone and also take care of our elders, family and neighbors. Stay safe.” .”

The Canadian Hurricane Center issued a hurricane watch for broad coastal areas of Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island.

Hurricanes are somewhat rare in Canada, in part because once storms reach colder waters, they lose their primary source of energy. and become extratropical. These storms can still have hurricane-force winds, but they now have a cold, rather than a warm, core and are invisible. Their appearance may also vary. They lose their harmonic shape and more closely resemble commas.

Fiona has been blamed for at least five deaths so far – 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 officials there reported relatively light damage and no casualties.

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

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