The San Juan Daily Star
Biden vows to help rebuild island power grid ‘in a resilient way’
By Alejandra M. Jover Tovar
Special to The Star
President Joseph Biden and first lady Dr. Jill Biden came to Puerto Rico on Monday afternoon to view recovery two weeks after Hurricane Fiona made landfall in the southwestern corner of the island.
Air Force One landed at Mercedita Airport in the southern coastal municipality of Ponce, one of the areas most affected by the hurricane. In fact, part of the airstrip had to be closed days before for cleaning due to flooding.
Biden is the 11th U.S. president to visit Puerto Rico on official business.
Upon arriving, the first couple was received by Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia, Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón and U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.), among others. They then traveled to the Las Américas Port, where Biden delivered a message, notably, in front of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) generators, signifying the urgency of restoring power to the island two weeks after Fiona. As of press time Monday, 93% of the island had power, with the Ponce and Mayagüez regions the most affected and least energized.
After a briefing, Pierluisi took the podium and thanked Biden for his support, “which has included the full cooperation of Cabinet members from key agencies.”
“The Biden administration has worked with us,” the governor said. “FEMA’s collaboration has been critical to our efforts to rebuild the island. My team and I provided the president with a summary of where we are with Hurricane Fiona. This is critical to be able to provide our residents with the help they need.”
“To that end, I have asked the president for an additional 180 days of assistance for recovery efforts,” Pierluisi said. “We want to be treated the same as our fellow Americans in our time of need.”
The president said that “we were anxious to be here.”
“It is people like you that do so much for your community,” Biden said. “Thank you, governor, for your partnership. I mean it when I say we’re going to help rebuild everything in a resilient way.”
“Jill and I have Puerto Rico on our minds and in our prayers,” he said.
Regarding the list of petitions Pierluisi conveyed, such as an extension of assistance and help to rebuild the power infrastructure, the president said: “We are with you; I am confident that we will be able to do everything you want, governor.”
Biden recognized that Puerto Rico has been through major difficulties since Hurricane Maria five years ago, and said the island “is full of strong people, and you have had to do a lot without the help you have needed.”
“[With Fiona] roads have been washed out again. We’ve seen homes flooded, farms decimated. For days, people have lived without electricity and water, some without knowing when they’ll have it again,” Biden said. “Those who survived Maria are reliving the nightmare all over again. The numbers may seem abstract, but every number and every life is a person. We read the obituaries and feel like they were people we knew who cared about their community and made a difference. They will not be forgotten.”
“Through these disasters, many have been displaced, but somehow they continue to rise up and deserve all the help their country can give them,” Biden added.
The president said he would make sure that federal funds are provided as swiftly as possible and that the federal government will continue to cover the cleanup process after Fiona. He reminded people that “we deployed FEMA personnel, search and rescue, and personnel for power restoration that now we have to get to 100 percent.”
“The main story for reporters has been the storm. But there is also the story of what people did after the hurricane: churches and organizations cooked for their neighbors, organized activities for children, provided water for those who couldn’t get it, and during the storm, people made extraordinary efforts to save their neighbors,” Biden pointed out. “There are no paratroopers; these were neighbors willing to do anything. Thanks to ordinary people, the recovery is underway.”
Aside from the money already allocated to the island after Hurricane Maria, Biden announced $60 million from the Infrastructure Act to provide additional assistance to develop new public works that would be resilient against future weather events.
“I am ready to deploy more resources from the Department of Energy to transform the entire system,” he said.
“We’ll help as they work to repair their grid quickly,” the president vowed. “We are committed every step of the way as long as it takes. We will not leave here, as long as I am president, until everything that can be done is done.”