White House surges aid to hurricane-hit Puerto Rico on a haunting five-year anniversary | CNN Politics

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Just five years after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, yet another devastating hurricane is testing the ability of the federal government to respond rapidly to its core infrastructure and an island exposed to climate change vulnerability. has capacity.


Biden is ramping up White House aid after Hurricane Fiona caused heavy rains, severe flooding, landslides and blackouts. Echoes of 2017, when Maria killed more than a few thousand people and caused tens of billions of dollars in damage, are troubling local residents who are still trying to rebuild. Some whose homes were flooded may face the prospect of starting all over again.

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“It’s devastating rain that just won’t stop,” Robert Little, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s coordinating officer on the island, told CNN’s Erin Burnett, adding that the government’s relief efforts began to accelerate. “The FEMA team has been leaning forward ever since we were called upon to land here.”

The effort has been building on an improved federal presence on the island since Maria, when the Trump administration was heavily criticized for a haphazard response and cheering for itself despite a tragedy that unfolded months later because Technicians struggled to restore the electrical grid. Although they often seem neglected in Washington, Puerto Ricans are American citizens living in a US island territory and entitled to federal government assistance.

Detailed damage assessments from the storm were still being compiled early Tuesday, but some residents said the severe flooding and landslides were reminiscent of the devastation wrought by Maria.

The arrival of the latest hurricane was particularly brutal as many Puerto Ricans have had a tough time since 2017, grappling with severe chapters of hurricanes, earthquakes, pandemics and political upheaval.

“It’s devastation upon devastation,” former San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on “The Situation Room.”

Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierlucci told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Monday night that five years ago most of the damage was caused by strong winds, this time the problem is the amount of rain. But when the power grid was repaired after Maria, it hasn’t really improved, he said.

Yet Pierlucci added: “We are much better prepared now than in Puerto Rico five years ago when we were hit by Hurricane Maria. To give you an example, FEMA now has one in the whole of Puerto Rico instead of one.” There are four warehouses.”

Millions of residents lost power as Fiona swept through. And after crossing the Dominican Republic, where it left a million customers without water, it is now a Category Two hurricane that is expected to pass through Turks and Caicos on Tuesday.

A spokesperson for Pearlucci told CNN that at least two people died in Puerto Rico as a result of Fiona. There was a 58-year-old man who was washed away in a river. Another person died when his generator caught fire when he tried to fill it with gasoline.

Conditions are challenging as many medical centers were running on emergency power. Falling of trees and electric wires has made it difficult for patients to reach the hospital. The National Guard and emergency responders rescued nearly 1,000 people overnight on Monday as it rained on the island.

As President Joe Biden flew back from London and for Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral, he called on Pierlucci from Air Force One to take an oath of strong support. He said 300 federal workers were already on the job and the number of aid workers would increase significantly as the damage assessment was completed.

The president promised that the federal team would stay as long as “at work to get it done”, especially since many families were still rebuilding after the nightmare of Maria, a deadly Category Five hurricane that killed many residents. was left without electricity for months.

The White House said Biden has directed FEMA Administrator Dean Criswell to travel to Puerto Rico on Tuesday to meet with local officials and citizens and assess urgent needs.

One man, Juan Miguel González, was grieved by the effects of a hurricane that mercilessly undermined the rebuilding work of many Puerto Ricans.

“We are not far behind; We’re just halfway there. A lot of people, more than Maria, have lost their homes … now because of the floods,” Gonzalez told CNN’s Leyla Santiago.

The primary impulse of the White House and government emergency management agencies has always been to reduce the casualties and loss of life and property from hurricanes. Then the clean-up and rebuilding begins.

Every storm brings potential political damage to the presidential administration. Delayed responses or signs of apathy or misdirected aid could lead to days of ineffective news coverage with the potential to stifle political momentum, such as those currently being enjoyed by Biden.

Ever since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, and unleashed a devastating disconnect between the George W. Bush administration and local officials, White House teams have been alert to the potential for a political backlash from poor management of natural disasters. And they go out of their way to emphasize cooperation with local authorities. Or at least most of them do.

Another hurricane to hit Puerto Rico has revived memories of former President Donald Trump’s response to Maria, when a video of him tossing paper towels at an aid distribution center was the epitome of an often indifferent relief effort. However, the former president awarded himself an A-plus for his response, despite the fact that according to the Puerto Rican government more than 2,900 people were later killed by the effects of the storm. Trump also reacted to the criticism by rebuking the media and local officials – in a preview of how he would prioritize his political aspirations over sound disaster management during the coronavirus pandemic.

Yulin Cruz, who often clashed hotly with Trump in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, said the people of Puerto Rico were collectively suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder following frequent disasters, but a strong federal government response was to reduce their trauma. can help.

“The federal government has a great opportunity here, (and) President Biden to show the world how things are done when they are right,” she said.

Following the immediate relief effort, Washington is likely to offer residents of Puerto Rico more long-term assistance for another reconstruction effort. But former FEMA administrator Craig Fugate said the lesson of past natural disasters was that returning things the way they were would not work.

“The madness to go back and make it back the way it didn’t work,” Fugate told CNN on Monday.

“We have to really focus on investing in where are we going to rebuild, how are we going to rebuild. Because the climate has changed – how we are rebuilding and developing has not yet caught on,” he said.

Although 2022 has been a relatively benign hurricane season so far, such storms feed on warm ocean water and moist air, and scientists say the climate crisis is making them more powerful.

According to a UN climate report released last month, the proportion of high-intensity storms has increased due to warmer global temperatures. Scientists have also found that storms are more likely to stop and produce catastrophic rainfall and last longer after they make landfall.

Credit : www.cnn.com

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