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Biden visits Puerto Rico to survey Hurricane Fiona's damage

At least 25 people were killed when the storm lashed the island last month, knocking out power and causing widespread flooding.

WASHINGTON President Joe Biden visited Puerto Rico on Monday to survey the damage Hurricane Fiona caused last month, announcing $60 million in federal funding to help the island rebuild.

Speaking in the city of Ponce on Puerto Rico’s southern coast, Biden committed to “rebuild it all, and rebuild it in a resilient way,” while nodding to Puerto Rico’s difficulties getting federal funds under the Trump administration after Hurricane Maria in 2017.

“I’m determined to help Puerto Rico build faster than in the past and stronger, better prepared for the future,” Biden said.

Fiona made landfall about two weeks ago, bringing heavy winds and flooding that led to an islandwide power outage and at least 25 deaths, according to Puerto Rico’s Health Department. The storm was followed just days later by Hurricane Ian, which ripped through Florida last week, killing 83 people, before it made its way up the East Coast to South Carolina and then North Carolina, where four people were killed, according to tallies by state officials and NBC News. Biden is set to travel to Florida on Wednesday.

The Biden administration was criticized for being slow to respond to Fiona, and some Puerto Ricans have voiced concern that their recovery needs could be forgotten in the wake of Hurricane Ian’s devastating impact on Florida.

When Biden touched down in Ponce on Monday, hundreds thousands of Puerto Ricans were still without power.

“We want to be treated in the same way as our fellow Americans in the states in times of need. All American citizens regardless of where they live in the United States should receive the same support from the federal government,” said Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Rafael Pierluisi, speaking just before Biden.

Biden said the federal government would provide funding to repair levees, strengthen flood walls and create a new flood warning system. He said the government would cover 100% of the cost to clean up debris, conduct search and rescue efforts and run shelters. Puerto Ricans are also eligible for $37,900 in federal assistance for essential home repairs, as well as an additional $37,900 for lost property, the president said.

Biden, who often likes to draw on his own personal background to connect with people, especially during times of tragedy and loss, said his home state, Delaware, had a “relatively” large Puerto Rican community when he was growing up. “I was sort of raised in the Puerto Rican community at home, politically,” Biden said.

Biden, who was joined by first lady Jill Biden and the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Deanne Criswell, was also scheduled to meet with families and community leaders and help pack bags with food and other essential items.

The White House has not released details yet about Biden’s trip to Florida on Wednesday, and it is unclear whether he will meet in person with Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Biden and DeSantis, who have publicly sparred over a wide variety of issues, including the pandemic and immigration, have spoken several times on the phone since Ian hit.

Asked Friday whether Biden would want to meet with DeSantis in Florida, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, “This is not about politics,” comparing the situation to the Surfside condominium building collapse last year, when they worked together in response.

About 615,000 households and businesses were without electricity in Florida on Monday morning, according to PowerOutage.us. Power outages also continued in Puerto Rico, where about 120,000 residents remained without electricity Monday.

Ian, which was downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone, continues to bring rain to parts of the mid-Atlantic.