President Joe Biden on Thursday said the US government would do everything in its power to help residents of Puerto Rico recover after Hurricane Fiona left much of the island without power and reeling from storm damage.
Mr Biden spoke briefly at the outset of a briefing with Federal Emergency Management Agency officials regarding conditions on and needs of the island, which is part of the US but is not a state.
He said he and the officials gathered for the meeting are “laser-focused on what’s happened to the people of Puerto Rico” and noted that the damage from Fiona comes just over five years to the day the island was rocked by an equally severe storm, Hurricane Maria.
“We're surging federal resources to Puerto Rico and we'll do everything — everything we can to meet the urgent needs you have,” he said. “We know they're real and they're significant”.
The Category Four storm lashed the island with high winds, floodwaters, and left an islandwide blackout after it made landfall on 18 September. As of late Wednesday, the Puerto Rican government’s emergency portal said upwards of 450,000 residences lacked water service and a million homes and businesses remained without electricity.
The swath of damage from Fiona came just over five years after Hurricane Maria battered the island, leaving residents without power, water, and other resources.
Mr Biden noted that he’d approved a disaster declaration that allows federal resources to be directed to the island quickly and without cost to local government.
“I approved that declaration of disaster, the emergency disaster declaration, bringing the full force of the federal government to respond, knowing full well what catastrophic effects — how catastrophic they can be,” he said. He added that he’d told Fema officials to “make sure that people in Puerto Rico have everything, everything they could possibly need that we can provide”.
Continuing, the president addressed Puerto Rican residents and told them they should “take advantage” of federal resources made available as a result of the disaster declaration.
“It's okay to ask for help. This is a place you should ask for help. There's ... no credit for not asking for help,” he said.
Mr Biden added that he has signed another declaration authorising 100 per cent federal funding for “debris removal, search and rescue, power, water restoration, shelter and food” for Puerto Rico over the next month.
“This is really, really, really important to us — really important. And so we're not going to walk away,” he said.