WASHINGTON, United States, (AFP) – President Joe Biden will head to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico on Monday, where he will announce $60 million to strengthen storm defences in a US territory whose people have complained of neglect after past natural disasters.
First Lady Jill Biden will accompany the president on the trip, with the couple also visiting Florida on Wednesday to see the devastating damage caused by Hurricane Ian.
Both Puerto Rico and Florida have suffered fatalities, widespread power outages, dangerous flooding and grievous property damage from the recent hurricanes — first Fiona, then Ian.
The Bidens will visit the city of Ponce on Puerto Rico’s southern coast, where they will meet with families and community leaders impacted by the storm and help pack food and other supplies for those in need, a White House official said.
They will be joined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) director Deanne Criswell.
During the visit, Biden is to announce more than $60 million in funding “to shore up levees, strengthen flood walls, and create a new flood warning system to help Puerto Rico become better prepared for future storms,” the White House official said.
The Bidens will “reaffirm their commitment to supporting the people of Puerto Rico every step of the way — for as long as it takes.”
On Saturday, the president told a Congressional Black Caucus dinner that “we owe Puerto Rico a hell of a lot more than they’ve already gotten.”
Twenty-five deaths in Puerto Rico have been linked to Hurricane Fiona, according to the island’s public health department, which is still investigating how 12 of the fatalities occurred.
The entire US territory lost power and about one million people were left temporarily without drinking water, when Fiona — then a Category 1 storm — hammered the island in mid-September.
Biden declared a state of emergency for Puerto Rico on September 18.
Island residents, all US citizens, have complained of being overlooked by Washington after previous disasters, including the hit from twin hurricanes, Irma and Maria, in 2017.
Florida, where Hurricane Ian roared on land Wednesday as a Category 4 storm, is still struggling to assess the extensive damage, particularly on its southwest coast.
The confirmed death toll from Ian, one of the most powerful storms ever to hit the US mainland, has soared to at least 58 in Florida and four in North Carolina with rescuers still searching for survivors in submerged neighborhoods.
US authorities — federal, state and local — are often judged by the effectiveness of their response to such disasters.
After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Gulf coast, critics castigated then-president George W. Bush after photos showed him surveying damage while flying high overhead.
And after then-president Donald Trump, on a visit to Puerto Rico following storms there, took a basketball-style shot to distribute rolls of paper towels, the mayor of capital city San Juan called it “insulting” and “abominable.”