As the threat of Hurricane Fiona bore down on Puerto Rico Sunday, President Joe Biden issued an emergency declaration intended to facilitate a rapid federal response to humanitarian and other needs likely to result from the storm, as The Hill reported.
According to warnings issued by the National Weather Service (NWS), the storm was expected to yield heavy rains across the island through Sunday, often sufficient to generate dangerous flash flooding as well as mudslides and landslides in areas of higher elevation.
In the immediate aftermath of Biden’s declaration, officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) headed to the weather-besieged island to help local authorities initiate response efforts.
Jaclyn Rothenberg, a FEMA spokesperson, took to social media to acknowledge Biden’s action, writing, “Thank you @POTUS for a swift approval of an emergency declaration for Puerto Rico. This will allow @fema to respond and support the island as they experience the extreme weather impacts of Tropical Storm #Fiona.”
As the Associated Press has since reported, the storm’s strength, unfortunately, lived up to the aforementioned predictions, taking the island’s power grid offline, tearing up asphalt roads, and leaving devastation in its wake.
Rushing floodwaters reportedly engulfed vehicles, first floors of countless structures, as well as an airport runway in the southern part of the island, causing Gov. Pedro Pierluisi to declare, “the damages that we are seeing are catastrophic. What we don’t want is loss of life.”
The mountain town of Utuado saw one of its bridges quickly washed away by surging storm waters, and according to the island’s primary power transmission and distribution company, the lion’s share of Puerto Ricans are essentially under blackout conditions, with restoration likely to take several days, at least.
As the severity of the hurricane’s effects became more apparent on Monday, Biden issued a message to the island’s citizenry, saying, “We stand with you and we will get through this together.”
Considering that Puerto Rico is still in the process of rebuilding from the massive devastation and infrastructure loss wrought by Hurricane Maria back in 2017, the federal assistance triggered by Biden’s Sunday declaration – while certainly welcomed – may still be insufficient to address the island’s mounting needs.