Biden visits Puerto Rico after Hurricane Fiona: ‘I’m committed to this island’

President Biden on Monday traveled to Puerto Rico to survey the federal response to last month’s Hurricane Fiona, which ravaged an island that is still struggling to recover from Hurricane Maria.

“I'm committed to this island,” Biden said in Ponce, Puerto Rico. “You deserve every bit of help this country can give you.”

Fiona struck Puerto Rico as a Category 1 storm on Sept. 18, dumping nearly 30 inches of rain, triggering floods and mudslides, washing away bridges and causing an islandwide power outage.

Two weeks later, more than 120,000 homes and businesses are still without power. At least 16 deaths have been connected to the storm as parts of the island are still recovering from the damage caused by Maria, which hit Puerto Rico as a Category 4 hurricane in 2017, killing nearly 3,000 people.

President Biden delivers remarks in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona in Ponce, Puerto Rico, on Monday.
President Biden delivers remarks in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona in Ponce, Puerto Rico, on Monday. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

“Over time, these losses add up,” Biden said. “Yet somehow, the people of Puerto Rico keep getting back up.”

Biden announced $60 million in additional funding through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to help shore up levies, fortify the island’s floodwalls and create a new flood warning system for Puerto Rico’s 2.6 million residents.

“We have to ensure that when the next storm strikes, Puerto Rico is ready.” he said.

The president, who was joined by first lady Jill Biden and FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell on the trip, received a briefing from Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi and other federal and local officials before delivering remarks.

“We are not leaving here as long as I’m president until everything — and I mean this sincerely — until every single thing we can do is done,” Biden said.

Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi greets President Biden and first lady Jill Biden at Mercedita International Airport in Ponce, Puerto Rico, on Monday.
Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi greets President Biden and first lady Jill Biden at Mercedita International Airport in Ponce, Puerto Rico, on Monday. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

The president and first lady were scheduled to meet with families and community leaders affected by Hurricane Fiona at a local school before returning to Washington, D.C., later Monday.

Biden is scheduled to visit storm-ravaged Florida on Wednesday as the death toll from Hurricane Ian, which tore across the peninsula last week, continues to climb. At least 60 deaths have been blamed on the storm, which was a Category 4 when it made landfall in southwest Florida.

Before departing the White House earlier Monday, the president took a thinly veiled jab at his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, who publicly sparred with Puerto Rico officials in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

“I’m heading to Puerto Rico because they haven’t been taken very good care of,” Biden said. “They’ve been trying like hell to catch up from the last hurricane. I want to see the state of affairs today and make sure we push everything we can.”

Homes flooded by Hurricane Fiona are seen along a Salinas beach in Puerto Rico on Sept. 19
Homes flooded by Hurricane Fiona are seen along a Salinas beach in Puerto Rico on Sept. 19. (Alejandro Granadillo/AP Photo)