Rick Scott, Marco Rubio urge FEMA to make Puerto Rico's recovery from Fiona 'top priority'

·3 min read

MIAMI — Sen. Rick Scott and Sen. Marco Rubio, along with Puerto Rico’s Representative Commissioner Jennifer González-Colón in Congress, asked the Biden administration to move quickly to aid Puerto Rico in the aftermath of the devastating damage done by Hurricane Fiona.

In a letter Tuesday to Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell, the lawmakers urged her to “make the island’s full recovery from this storm a top priority. “

“At a time when Puerto Rico is still recovering from the widespread destruction caused by Hurricane Maria, which completely devastated the island just five years ago, Hurricane Fiona’s heavy rains produced catastrophic flooding, widespread power outages, and other life-threatening impacts to the island’s critical infrastructure,” the lawmakers wrote.

Disaster: The power is out. Homes and roads are flooded. In Puerto Rico, Hurricane Fiona leaves a 'nightmare.'

How can I help Puerto Rico recover from Hurricane Fiona?: Mutual aid, nonprofits to support

“With many of the severe consequences of this storm still unfolding, we write in support of an immediate assessment of the situation and deployment of FEMA resources, personnel, and supplies,” they wrote. “This will alleviate unnecessary delays in facilitating the recovery efforts as access to critical resources begin to dwindle.”

Florida is home to nearly 1.2 million Puerto Ricans, who represent the second-largest Hispanic group behind Cubans, according to the latest Census figures.

Following Hurricane Maria in 2018, tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans temporarily relocated to Florida. Many have since stayed because the U.S. territory’s economy remains in shambles.

Hurricane Fiona's brings heavy rains to P.R.

Fiona made landfall as a Category 1 storm Sunday afternoon on the southwestern coast of Puerto Rico, then made landfall again early Monday on the Dominican Republic's east coast.

As of Tuesday, more than 80% of Puerto Rico remained without power — more than 24 hours after the storm shut down the island's entire electrical system. There's no running water in more than 100,000 homes and businesses. The Dominican Republic is still assessing damage.

The National Weather Service warned of "catastrophic and life-threatening" flooding and mudslides in southern and eastern Puerto Rico on Tuesday, and more heavy rain was forecast through the week. Conditions were not expected to significantly improve.

President Biden declared a state of emergency as the storm neared the island’s southwest corner.

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell and National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham address media during an April 13 press conference at the National Hurricane Conference in Orlando.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell and National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham address media during an April 13 press conference at the National Hurricane Conference in Orlando.

FEMA’s Criswell arrived Tuesday to assess the damage and figure out what other resources might be needed.

She said the agency will be sending “hundreds of additional staff’’ to Puerto Rico in the coming days, besides the 1,000-plus already in the island responding to Hurricane Fiona — about 700 of whom had been aiding recovery efforts from Hurricane Maria, which struck with devastating force exactly five years ago.

Quicker FEMA response

Criswell said in a statement that FEMA intends to “place staff in each of the impacted communities to supplement our already vast footprint.’’

That stands in stark contrast to 2017, when FEMA’s response to Maria’s impact on Puerto Rico was widely criticized, leading the agency to acknowledge mistakes in organization, preparedness and staffing in an internal report the next year.

The agency said it has increased the number of its warehouses in Puerto Rico from one to four and boosted supplies of meals and water tenfold.

“FEMA’s very well positioned for this response,’’ said Keith Turi, assistant administrator for recovery. “We’ve made a lot of progress in planning and preparedness with our partners in Puerto Rico and the municipalities in the last five years.’’

Advocates stresses the importance of supporting local organizations and grassroots mutual aid groups providing on-the-ground relief to communities in Puerto Rico. Multiple organizations are providing crucial aid such as solar lights, generators, supplies and food.

To help Puerto Ricans and others in the Caribbean recover, here's a list of some nonprofits and mutual aid funds you can support.

Sergio Bustos is Enterprise/Politics Editor for Florida's Gannett/USA Today Network. He's based in South Florida. Email: floridapolitics@gannett.com 

This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Hurricane Fiona: Scott, Rubio press FEMA to aid Puerto Rico's recovery