White House increases aid to hurricane-hit Puerto Rico on haunting 5th anniversary

The Biden White House is mobilizing a round of support after Typhoon Fiona causing heavy rain, severe flooding, landslides and power outages. The echoes of 2017, when Maria caused the deaths of more than several thousand people and left tens of billions of dollars in damage, are haunting local residents who are still trying to rebuild. Some people whose homes are flooded may face the prospect of starting over.

“The catastrophic rain won’t stop coming,” Robert Little, the Federal Emergency Management Agency coordinator on the island, told CNN. acceleration. “The FEMA team has been moving forward since we got the call down here.”

The effort is building on an improved federal presence on the island since Maria, when the Trump administration was heavily criticized for its messy response and cheering for itself despite the tragedy. months later as technicians struggled to restore the grid. Although they often seem ignored in Washington, Puerto Ricans are US citizens living on a US island territory and enjoying federal government assistance.

Detailed damage assessments from the storm were still being compiled as of early Tuesday, but some residents said the terrible flooding and mudslides were reminiscent of Maria’s devastation.

The latest storm comes especially devastating as many Puerto Ricans have had a rough time since 2017, grappling with hurricanes, earthquakes, pandemics and political turmoil.

Carmen Yulín Cruz, former mayor of San Juan, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on “The Situation Room,” “This is devastation versus devastation.”

Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Monday night that while most of the damage five years ago was due to raging winds, the issue this time was rainfall. But while the grid was repaired after Maria, it has not really improved, he said.

Still, Pierluisi added: “We’re much better prepared now than we were in Puerto Rico five years ago when we were hit by Hurricane Maria. Just to give you an example, FEMA now has four warehouses located on top of it. throughout Puerto Rico, not a warehouse.”

‘We’re only halfway back’

Millions of residents lost power when Fiona flooded in. And after passing through the Dominican Republic, which left a million customers without running water, now a Category Two storm is expected to pass near Turks and Caicos on Tuesday.

A spokesperson for Pierluisi told CNN that at least two people in Puerto Rico have died as a result of Fiona. A 58-year-old man was swept away by a river. Another man died when his generator caught fire as he tried to fill it with gasoline.

Conditions are fraught as many medical centers are operating on emergency power. Fallen trees and power lines make it difficult for patients to get to the hospital. The National Guard and emergency responders rescued about 1,000 people from Monday night to Monday as rain blanketed the island.

When President Joe Biden flew back from London and attended Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral, he called Pierluisi from Air Force One to swear strong support. He said 300 federal employees are already on the job and the number of support staff will increase significantly once the damage assessment is completed.

The president promised the federal team would stay on as long as they “get the job done,” especially since many families are still rebuilding from the nightmare following Hurricane Maria, a deadly Category 5 hurricane that many residents lost power for months. .

Biden directed FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell to Puerto Rico on Tuesday to meet with local officials and citizens and assess urgent needs, the White House said.

One man, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, lamented the impact of a hurricane that mercilessly destroyed the rebuilding work of many Puerto Ricans.

Gonzalez told CNN’s Leyla Santiago: “We’re not all the way back.

Emergency aid and political risks

The primary driving force of the White House and government emergency management agencies has always been to reduce casualties and loss of life caused by hurricanes. Then clean and rebuild started.

Each storm brings potential political pitfalls to presidential administrations. A delayed response or signs of indifference or aid misdirected could trigger days of bad news with the potential to stall political momentum, much like what Biden currently enjoys.

Ever since Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast in 2005 and caused a catastrophic disconnect between the George W. Bush administration and local governments, White House teams have been wary of the possibility. political backlash due to poor handling of natural disasters. And they are always strained to cooperate with local authorities. Or at least most of them do.

Another hurricane making landfall in Puerto Rico revived memories of former President Donald Trump’s reaction to Maria, as a video of him throwing tissues at an aid distribution center was released. to represent an often indifferent relief effort. However, the former President gave himself an A for his answer, despite the fact that it was more 2,900 people, according to the Puerto Rican government, was later revealed to have died from the effects of the storm. Trump also responded to criticism by lashing out at the media and local officials – in a preview of how he would prioritize his political aspirations over sound disaster management in the coronavirus pandemic.

Yulín Cruz, who frequently clashed with Trump after Hurricane Maria, said Puerto Ricans collectively suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder following successive disasters but the strong federal government response has can help ease their trauma.

“The federal government has a great opportunity here, (and) President Biden to show the world how things are done when they’re done right,” she said.

Following the immediate relief effort, Washington will likely be called upon to provide longer-term aid to Puerto Ricans for another reconstruction effort. But former FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate says the lesson of previous natural disasters is that putting things back the way they were won’t work.

“The madness of going back and putting it back the way it was didn’t work,” Fugate told CNN on Monday.

“We have to really focus on investing in where we’re going to rebuild, how we’re going to rebuild. Because the climate has changed – the way we’ve rebuilt and grown has not caught up yet. ,” he added.

Although 2022 has been a relatively benign hurricane season so far, such storms feed on warm ocean water and moist air, and scientists say the climate crisis is making them worse stronger.

The rate of high-intensity hurricanes has increased due to warmer global temperatures, according to a United Nations climate report released last month. The scientists also found that storms were more likely to stall and lead to devastating rainfall, and that they linger longer after making landfall.

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