Puerto Rico was left in misery this week after Hurricane Fiona struck the U.S. territory. With hundreds of thousands of residents lacking clean water, electricity and other basics, U.S. relief agencies need to get the recovery in high gear. And the island’s bad luck should prompt Floridians to prepare for the height of hurricane season.
Fiona struck Puerto Rico’s southwest coast Sunday sparking an islandwide power blackout and lashing ashore with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. Bad weather and high winds disrupted transmission lines, leading to “a blackout on all the island,” the island’s power operator said. As of Thursday, four days after the storm, officials said about two-thirds of 1.47 million electricity customers were without power, while more than a third of customers did not have water service. Hundreds of people remain stranded across the island after historic flooding smashed roads and bridges. Emergency workers are still combing the territory to find survivors and assess the damage. This massive relief effort will need Washington’s attention and coordination on the ground — and whatever charitable support the island’s fellow American citizens can muster.
The recovery won’t be quick or easy. Fiona hit just days before the anniversary of Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm that devastated the island in 2017, killing nearly 3,000 and destroying the power grid and other infrastructure. Thousands of homes in Puerto Rico had blue tarps for roofs even as Fiona approached. The storm dumped up to 30 inches of rain in some areas, causing widespread flooding and landslides that washed away cars and homes.
President Joe Biden on Thursday approved Puerto Rico’s request for a major disaster declaration, which will help speed the delivery of assistance. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has also deployed hundreds of employees to supplement the 700 staff already living and working there. The administration needs to quickly assess Puerto Rico’s needs. It also needs to kick-start the recovery effort that’s languished after Maria. FEMA has allocated tens of billions of dollars to Puerto Rico to help it rebuild from Maria, but only a fraction of that money has been spent. Washington needs to remove the bureaucratic hurdles and get more involved in the island’s long-term recovery effort.
Fiona is on a track to pass close to Bermuda early Friday and then hit easternmost Canada early Saturday, avoiding a landfall in the mainland United States, according to the National Hurricane Center. But the Atlantic is heating up, with two named storms and three tropical systems, including a system in the southeastern Caribbean Sea that forecast models continue to show is headed for the Gulf of Mexico.
This weekend is a great opportunity for Floridians to prepare. There’s no need to wait longer to stock up on nonperishable food and medicines that will be needed, anyway, in the weeks ahead — or on the bottled water, batteries and other goods that get in short supply as storms systems near. And get those important papers together. It’s all the price of living in Florida.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.