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Joe Biden Vows US Won’t Walk Away From Storm-Struck Puerto Rico

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San Salvador, Sept 23: US President Joe Biden said on Thursday the full force of the federal government is ready to help Puerto Rico recover from the devastation of Hurricane Fiona, while Bermuda and Canada’s Atlantic provinces prepared for a major blast from the Category 4 storm.

Speaking at a briefing with Federal Emergency Management Agency officials in New York, Biden said, “We’re all in this together.”

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Biden noted that hundreds of FEMA and other federal officials are already on the ground in Puerto Rico, where Fiona caused an island-wide blackout.

More than 60 per cent of power customers remained without energy on Thursday, and a third of customers were without water — and local officials admitted they could not say when service would be fully restored.

Biden said his message to the people of Puerto Rico who are still hurting from Hurricane Maria five years ago is: “We’re with you. We’re not going to walk away.”

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That seemed to draw a contrast with former President Donald Trump, who was widely accused of an inadequate response to Maria, which left some Puerto Ricans without power for 11 months.

The hurricane was still at Category 4 force late on Thursday as it was making a close pass to Bermuda, where authorities opened shelters and announced schools and offices would be closed Friday.

Fiona was expected to still be a large and dangerously potent storm when it reached Canada’s Atlantic provinces, likely late Friday, as a post-tropical cyclone.

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“It’s going to be a storm that everyone remembers when it is all said and done,” said Bob Robichaud, warning preparedness meteorologist for the Canadian Hurricane Centre.

 

Hundreds of people in Puerto Rico remained cut off by road four days after the hurricane ripped into the US territory, and frustration was mounting for people like Nancy Galarza, who tried to signal for help from work crews she spotted in the distance.

“Everyone goes over there,” she said pointing toward crews at the bottom of the mountain who were helping others also cut off by the storm. “No one comes here to see us. I am worried for all the elderly people in this community.”

At least five landslides cover the narrow road to her community in the steep mountains around the northern town of Caguas. The only way to reach the settlement is to climb over thick mounds of mud, rock and debris left by Fiona, whose floodwaters shook the the foundations of nearby homes with earthquake-like force.

 

“The rocks sounded like thunder,” recalled Vanessa Flores, a 47-year-old school janitor. “I’ve never in my life heard that. It was horrible.”

At least one elderly woman who relies on oxygen was evacuated on Thursday by city officials who were working under a pelting rain to clear paths to the San Salvador community.

Ramiro Figueroa, 63, said his bedridden 97-year-old bedridden father refused to leave home despite insistence from rescue crews. Their road was blocked by mud, rocks, trees and his sister’s pickup, which was washed down the hill during the storm.

National Guard troops and others brought water, cereal, canned peaches and two bottles of apple juice.

 

“That has helped me enormously,” Figueroa said as he scanned the devastated landscape, where a river had changed its course and tore up the community.

At least eight of 11 communities in Caguas are completely isolated, said Luis González, municipal inspector of recovery and reconstruction.

 

It’s one of at least six municipalities where crews have yet to reach some areas. People there often depend on help from neighbours, as they did following Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm in 2017 that killed nearly 3,000 people. (AP)

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