Puerto Rico - Hurricane - Fiona A house lays in the mud after it was washed away by Hurricane Fiona at Villa Esperanza in Salinas, Puerto Rico. Fiona left hundreds of people stranded across the island after smashing roads and bridges, with authorities still struggling to reach them four days after the storm smacked the island causing historic flooding.
Image via AP Photo/Alejandro Granadillo.

The president’s action will make federal funding available to affected individuals in 55 municipalities.

President Joe Biden approved a major disaster declaration on Wednesday for Puerto Rico, making additional federal assistance available as island residents deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona.

“Today, I approved an Expedited Major Disaster Declaration for Puerto Rico in the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricane Fiona. I will continue to ensure the full force of the Federal government is mobilized to support the people of Puerto Rico,” Biden wrote on Twitter Wednesday night.

Biden Called Pierluisi to Reiterate Support for Puerto Rico After Fiona

Now federal funding is available to affected individuals in 55 of the island’s 78 municipalities.

This declaration raised concern on the island, as several of the municipalities most affected by Fiona were left out.

A FEMA spokesperson in Washington told El Nuevo Día that the aid’s coverage was based on the request made by the island’s administration. However, according to La Fortaleza, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi requested aid for all 78 municipalities.

The spokesperson added that because the declaration was made without a damage assessment, it may still be amended in the coming days to include other municipalities.

On Wednesday, many members of Congress from both parties mobilized to ask Biden to issue the disaster declaration.

Congress member Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) and US Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) lead a bipartisan group of 43 lawmakers in sending a letter to President Biden, urging him to issue a Major Disaster Declaration. 

“Governor Pierluisi has formally requested a Major Disaster Declaration for all of Puerto Rico’s municipalities in response to Hurricane Fiona. We strongly urge you to approve this request to ensure Puerto Rico has all the federal resources available to respond to this disaster,” the letter says.

Members of Congress stated in the letter that some 750,000 homes remain without drinking water. As of Thursday, Luma Energy said 495,000 customers have power, which represents just 38% of its customers.

As if that were not enough, the San Juan National Weather Service issued an excessive heat warning for the north-central to San Juan area for Thursday. Heat index values between 102 and 114 degrees are expected.

Hurricane Fiona brought unprecedented rainfall to the island, and several municipalities saw worse flooding than with Hurricane María in 2017.

“Hurricane Fiona has caused significant flood damage to homes across the island. Many families are now seeking temporary shelter and will require significant aid in order to rebuild their homes. FEMA’s Individual Assistance is critical to assist with these housing costs and other recovery expenses. We thank you for swiftly approving Puerto Rico’s Emergency Declaration this past Sunday,” the letter reads.

Steny Hoyer (D-MD) the Majority Leader of the US House of Representatives, praised Biden’s decision to declare a federal emergency on Sunday. 

“My thoughts are with our fellow Americans in #PuertoRico as Hurricane Fiona brings dangerous winds, destructive floods, and an island-wide power outage. The federal government must do everything possible to help them weather this challenge and recover quickly,” Hoyer wrote on Twitter.

Democratic Congress members Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL) and Rubén Gallego (D-Ariz.) will visit Puerto Rico this weekend to see some of the impacted areas.

Currently, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) Administrator Deanne Criswell is on the island, assessing the damages. She visited the town of Patillas, where a bridge collapsed, isolating 200 families.

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US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra declared on Wednesday, a Public Health Emergency for the island due to the flooding impact of Fiona. 

This declaration gives Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries and their healthcare providers greater flexibility in meeting emergency health needs.