Much of Puerto Rico is still without power after Hurricane Fiona struck the island three weeks ago, causing a nationwide blackout and leaving thousands without water or electricity. This storm hit the island just five years after Hurricane Maria, and FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell expects the damage estimate to once again reach billions of dollars.
President Biden visited the island last Monday, making promises to rebuild Puerto Rico “faster, stronger, and better prepared for the future.” Biden acknowledged lasting structural instabilities even with post-Maria rebuilding efforts. “Roads and bridges washed away again, families have seen their homes flooded away, crops decimated, farms destroyed… For everyone who survived Maria, Fiona must have been an all too familiar nightmare.”
Despite Biden’s very public visit, Puerto Ricans fear being left behind in the wake of Hurricane Ian, which tore through Florida just eleven days after Fiona made landfall on the island. Their fears are not unfounded.
After Hurricane Maria in 2017, FEMA made $9.5billion available to restore the island’s grid. During the President’s visit, Biden recognized that much of the money promised to Puerto Rico five years ago did not yet reach the island. In fact, 72% of that aid money has not yet reached local communities, mainly because reconstruction work on the island didn’t begin until late 2020. Biden assured that “every single dollar promised” of aid will reach Puerto Rico as it now recovers from Fiona’s devastation. Promises like these are all too familiar.
Puerto Rico-based think tank Center for a New Economy made a statement echoing concerns since Maria. “Basically, nothing had been done to strengthen the electric grid and other critical infrastructures or increase their resiliency,” the center said. “The damage caused by Hurricane Fiona will certainly add another layer of complexity on top of what was already a difficult and complicated effort.”
Puerto Rico is not a state, and thus its citizens cannot vote for its representation in congress. Meant to be powerful shows of action, these political visits and promises are seen by many as mere stunts, especially when follow through almost always dissolves with the next news cycle. While raising a bar that was slammed on the floor by Donald Trump’s infamous paper towel visit to the island in 2017, the Biden Administration’s promises will be better seen than believed.
Hurricane survivors can apply for FEMA assistance online at DisasterAssistance.gov, by calling 800-621-3362 or by using the FEMA App.