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Biden: U.S. ready to help Puerto Rico in storm recovery

‘We’re all in this together,’ he says, noting FEMA response in territory by DANICA COTO The Associated Press | September 23, 2022 at 4:35 a.m.
A man points to a home that was collapsed by Hurricane Fiona at Villa Esperanza in Salinas, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, September 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Alejandro Granadillo)

SAN SALVADOR, Puerto Rico -- 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 in Puerto Rico, where Fiona caused an island-wide blackout.

More than 60% of power customers remained without energy 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 who are still hurting from Hurricane Maria five years ago is, "We're with you. We're not going to walk away."

That seemed to draw a contrast with 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 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 today.

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 later today, 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 Gonzalez, 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.

Puerto Rico's government said 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 U.S. center said Fiona had maximum sustained winds of 130 mph on Thursday. It was centered about 280 miles west-southwest of Bermuda, heading north-northeast at 20 mph.

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

Information for this article was contributed by Zeke Miller, Seth Borenstein, Rob Rillies and Maricarmen Rivera Sanchez of The Associated Press.

  photo  View of a damaged bridge after Hurricane Fiona hit Villa Esperanza in Salinas, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, September 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Alejandro Granadillo)
 
 
  photo  A house lays in the mud after it was washed away by Hurricane Fiona at Villa Esperanza in Salinas, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022. Fiona left hundreds of people stranded across the island after smashing roads and bridges, with authorities still struggling to reach them four days after the storm smacked the U.S. territory, causing historic flooding. (AP Photo/Alejandro Granadillo)
 
 
  photo  Fallen trees lay over the Ports of Call Resort entrance after the passage of Hurricane Fiona in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Vivian Tyson)
 
 
  photo  Fallen palm trees lay over the Ports of Call Resort entrance after the passage of Hurricane Fiona in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Vivian Tyson)
 
 
  photo  President Joe Biden speaks about Hurricane Fiona during a visit to the Federal Emergency Management Agency Region 2 office in New York, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
 
 
  photo  This satellite image provided by NOAA shows Hurricane Fiona in the Atlantic Ocean near Bermuda, moving north on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022. Fiona, which struck Puerto Rico as a Category 1 hurricane, was up to a Category 4 on Thursday. (NOAA via AP)
 
 
  photo  This combination of two satellite images provided by Maxar Technologies shows above, a Jan. 18, 2022 view of a bridge over the Rio Grande de Arecibo before the passing the Hurricane Fiona, in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, and a photo of the damaged bridge after the passing of Hurricane Fiona, on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022. (Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies via AP)
 
 
  photo  This combination of two satellite images provided by Maxar Technologies shows above, a Jan. 18, 2022 view of a bridge over the Rio Grande de Arecibo before the passing the Hurricane Fiona, in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, and a photo after the passing of Hurricane Fiona, on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022. (Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies via AP)
 
 
  photo  A National Guardsman greets a neighbor after delivering water to the residents of Punta Diamante in Ponce, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, September 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Alejandro Granadillo)
 
 

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