President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden head to storm-ravaged Puerto Rico on Monday, in a bid to show solidarity with a US territory whose people have complained of neglect after past natural disasters.
The high-profile trip will be the first of two this week for the Bidens, who head on Wednesday to Florida to assess the devastating damage caused by Hurricane Ian.
Both Puerto Rico and Florida suffered numerous deaths, widespread power outages, dangerous flooding and grievous property damage from the recent hurricanes of rare intensity – first Fiona, then Ian.
No details of the Bidens’ trip have been announced, though visits to disaster zones are a customary duty of presidents.
But on Saturday, the president told a Congressional Black Caucus dinner that “our hearts… are heavy from the devastating hurricanes and storms in Puerto Rico, Florida and South Carolina. And we owe Puerto Rico a hell of a lot more than they’ve already gotten.”
Twenty-five people are believed to have died in Puerto Rico as a result of Hurricane Fiona, according to the island’s public health department, which is still investigating how 12 of the fatalities occurred.
The entire US territory lost power and about one million people were left temporarily without drinking water, when Fiona – then a powerful Category-4 storm – hammered the island in mid-September.
Biden declared a state of emergency for Puerto Rico on September 18.
Island residents – all US citizens – have complained of being overlooked by Washington after previous disasters, including the devastating hit from twin hurricanes, Irma and Maria, in 2017.
Florida, where Hurricane Ian roared on land Wednesday as a Category-4 storm, is still struggling to assess the extensive damage, particularly on its southwest coast.
The confirmed death toll from Ian, one of the most powerful storms ever to hit the US mainland, has soared to at least 58 in Florida and four in North Carolina with rescuers still searching for survivors in submerged neighborhoods.
More than 700,000 Floridians remained without power Sunday, according to the PowerOutage.us website, and officials said it could take months – and perhaps $50 billion or more – to rebuild devastated coastal zones.
Governments – federal, state and local – are often judged by the effectiveness of their response to such disasters.
After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Gulf coast, critics castigated then-president George W. Bush after photos showed him surveying damage while flying high overhead.
And after then-president Donald Trump, on a visit to Puerto Rico after the earlier storms there, took a basketball-style shot to distribute rolls of paper towels, the mayor of capital city San Juan called it “insulting” and “abominable.”