By Arlette Saenz and Maegan Vazquez, CNN
Updated: Thu, 22 Sep 2022 19:06:45 GMT
President Joe Biden participated in a briefing Thursday afternoon on the situation in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Fiona and announced he was authorizing 100% federal funding for debris removal, search and rescue and power restoration as a result of the storm.
During the briefing, which took place at FEMA's Region 2 Office at One World Trade in New York City, Biden said he wanted to "make sure the people of Puerto Rico have everything, everything that they can possibly need," adding, "We are with you. We are not going to walk away. We mean it."
"We're all in this together," he added. "We don't view this as some distant problem."
Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi and other Puerto Rican officials participated in the briefing virtually. Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell briefed the President in person, with New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and New York City Mayor Eric Adams also on hand. Biden has been in the city this week to attend the United Nations General Assembly and other events.
The President also thanked first responders, noting the trauma they experience and the challenges posed by experiencing so many disasters in the last five years.
The meeting comes as Fiona -- the first major hurricane of this year's Atlantic season that's currently a Category 4 -- continues to move north toward Bermuda. It's projected to eventually move up to Canada.
The hurricane watch for Bermuda has been upgraded to a hurricane warning. And Canadian forecasters are saying Fiona is likely to be Canada's strongest storm, warning that it could be Canada's version of Hurricane Sandy, which pummeled the northeastern coast of the United States in 2012.
The storm has killed at least five people across the Caribbean: one in Guadeloupe, two in Puerto Rico and two in the Dominican Republic.
Hurricane Fiona comes almost exactly five years after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, a storm that caused an extended blackout across the island and lasting damage to infrastructure.
As of Thursday, 495,000 -- or 38% -- of customers have electricity in Puerto Rico, according to LUMA Energy, which operates the island's power grid. Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority Executive President Doriel Pagán Crespo said Thursday that 890,000 customers, or 67% of all users, now have running water.
On Wednesday, Puerto Rico Housing Secretary William Rodriguez said in a video that more than 800 people are currently in shelters with about 40 shelters spread across the island.
The President approved a major disaster declaration for the island on Wednesday, directing federal aid for local recovery efforts in areas affected by Hurricane Fiona.
The move allows residents to access grants for temporary housing and home repairs as well as low-interest loans to cover uninsured property losses.
Adams has also deployed staff from city agencies to Puerto Rico to help officials surveying damage.
Pierluisi joined Criswell to survey storm damage on an aerial tour of Puerto Rico on Wednesday. The governor had said ahead of the tour on Wednesday that he expected to speak with the President this week.
Forecast models also show a developing storm system poised to be named Hermine could pose a threat to the Gulf Coast by next week.