Hurricane Fiona drenches Puerto RicoFEMA chief Deanne Criswell to visit area
Bennington Banner (VT)
The Washington Post
Five years after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, killing thousands and triggering one of the largest blackouts in U.S. history, the island is digging out after another devastating storm.
Even though the core of Hurricane Fiona has pulled well to the northwest of Puerto Rico and storm warnings have been discontinued, its circulation is forecast to drag rain bands over the island into Tuesday. Some areas could still add a few inches to current totals, bringing potentially more flooding and landslides.
The storm slammed Turks and Caicos with torrential rain and strong winds early Tuesday. Now Bermuda is in the crosshairs of the Category 3 hurricane as it churns northward and picks up speed.
Puerto Rico is reeling from widespread power outages. More than 1,000 of the territory's residents had to be rescued from flooded homes as roads and bridges were swept away by rising water levels.
Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Deanne Criswell is expected to travel to Puerto Rico on Tuesday to meet with local officials as the island recovers from significant damage. She will also meet with residents affected by Fiona to gauge the island's most urgent needs.
Hundreds of FEMA workers and federal responders are already on the ground in Puerto Rico, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, power restoration experts and urban search-and-rescue teams, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday.
More federal responders will arrive in the coming days, she added, and power restoration began Monday.
"FEMA is continuing to work with LUMA [Puerto Rico's energy company] to restore power and meet needs for generators," Jean-Pierre said. "In the meantime, President Biden is receiving regular updates on the storm and these emergency efforts. And we will all continue to keep the people of Puerto Rico and all those in the path of the storm in our thoughts."
Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi (D) has asked President Joe Biden to make a major disaster declaration, Pierluisi said during a news conference.
Pierluisi, who said the island's recovery process would be "gradual," said Biden confirmed his government will activate a federal disaster assistance order under FEMA.
"Biden promised his help," Pierluisi said, adding that he did not want to wait more days before asking for federal help. "Our government is completely activated."
Once Biden approves federal help, local authorities will publish phone lines for island residents to apply for assistance.
Democratic members of Congress called for more federal assistance to be sent to Puerto Rico as the U.S. territory recovers from the devastation.
At a news conference Tuesday - originally scheduled to mark the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico in 2017 - several lawmakers recalled how Maria had revealed weaknesses of the infrastructure on the island, many of which had not been properly addressed.
"A year ago, I said that the Puerto Rican power grid was not where it needed to be," Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-N.Y.), the first Puerto Rican woman elected to Congress. "And I warned that not even a Cate-gory 1 [storm] will lead to a collapse of the power grid. And here we are today."
Velazquez and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) introduced a House resolution Tuesday to honor the more than 3,000 lives lost to Hurricane Maria and reaffirm the U.S. government's commitment to the territory.
"It is our colony and we must act," she said. "That means that we need to do proper oversight to make sure that the people of Puerto Rico are provided with the solutions that will provide the kind of future that they all deserve."
Democrats also made several pointed comparisons between Biden and the previous administration. After Hurricane Maria, Donald Trump was sharply criticized for tossing rolls of paper towels into a crowd as he delivered aid in San Juan. On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) obliquely referred to the "callousness" of that incident.
"The people of Puerto Rico have courage and resilience and strength that is beyond words. And to them, I want to say you are not alone," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said. "We're going to have your back. The time of throwing paper towels and counting it as action is over."
Fiona reached maximum sustained wind speeds of 115 mph as it approached Turks and Caicos early Tuesday, according to the National Hurricane Center, becoming the first major hurricane in the Atlantic this year.
The Nati0nal Weather Service urged Bermuda - a British island territory that lies some 700 miles from the U.S. mainland - to monitor the hurricane.
About 19 percent of households and businesses in Puerto Rico have power back after Fiona wiped out electricity on the whole island, according to the private company that manages transmission.
As of 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, more than 286,000 of roughly 1.5 million Luma Energy customers have power.
The island's electrical grid is notoriously fragile and has not significantly improved since Hurricane Maria blew through five years ago, leaving some people without power for almost a year.
In the Dominican Republic, more than 1.15 million households and businesses were without potable water Monday evening after Hurricane Fiona brought 96-mph winds that took dozens of aqueducts out of service.
As of Monday evening, 73 aqueducts were completely nonfunctional and three others were only partially working, according to the latest update from the country's emergency management office. Nearly 710,000 customers also had no power after 128 electrical circuits were damaged.
Two people in the Dominican Republic were killed in the storm, according to multiple local news reports.
Fiona is forecast to make an ominously close pass of Bermuda on Thursday night before accelerating even further and heading toward Newfoundland, Canada.