President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden travel to storm-devastated Puerto Rico Monday to show solidarity with a U.S. territory whose people have complained of neglect following past natural disasters.
The high-profile trip is the first of two this week for the Bidens, who travel to Florida on Wednesday to survey the devastating damage caused by Hurricane Ian.
Both Puerto Rico and Florida suffered numerous deaths, widespread power outages, dangerous flooding and serious property damage from recent hurricanes of rare intensity – first Fiona, then Ian.
No details were given about the Bidens’ trip, although visits to disaster areas are a common duty of presidents.
But on Saturday at a Congressional Black Caucus dinner, the President said that “our hearts … are heavy from the devastating hurricanes and storms in Puerto Rico, Florida and South Carolina.” And we owe Puerto Rico a hell of a lot more than we already get.”
According to the island’s health department, which is still investigating how 12 of the deaths happened, 25 people are believed to have died in Puerto Rico as a result of Hurricane Fiona.
The entire US territory lost power and about a million people were temporarily left without drinking water when Fiona – then a powerful Category 4 storm – hit the island in mid-September.
Biden declared a state of emergency for Puerto Rico on September 18.
Islanders — all US citizens — have complained that they were overlooked by Washington after previous disasters, including the devastating hit of twin hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.
Florida, where Hurricane Ian roared over land on Wednesday as a Category 4 storm, is still struggling to estimate the extensive damage, particularly on its southwest coast.
The confirmed death toll from Ian, one of the strongest storms to ever hit the US mainland, has risen to at least 58 in Florida and four in North Carolina, with rescuers still searching for survivors in submerged neighborhoods.
More than 700,000 Floridians were left without power as of Sunday, according to website PowerOutage.us, and officials said it could take months — and perhaps $50 billion or more — to rebuild the devastated coastal areas.
Governments – federal, state and local – are often judged on the effectiveness of their response to such disasters.
After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, critics slammed then-President George W. Bush after photos showed him surveying damage while flying high overhead.
And after then-President Donald Trump fired a basketball-like shot to hand out paper towels during a visit to Puerto Rico after the earlier storms there, the mayor of the capital, San Juan, called it “insulting” and “disgusting.”