Hurricane Fiona relief underway as NYC team deploys to Puerto Rico; Biden promises to cover cleanup

Friday, September 23, 2022
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New York City is deploying a team of approximately 12 members to Puerto Rico Thursday to aid in relief efforts following Hurricane Fiona. NJ Burkett has more.

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- New York City is deploying a team of approximately 12 members to Puerto Rico Thursday to aid in relief efforts following Hurricane Fiona.

President Biden told Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi, watching via video conference from his storm-ravaged island, that the federal government will cover 100% of the cost of Hurricane Fiona cleanup for the next month.

He noted the trauma the Puerto Rican people are experiencing as they endure another major storm just five years after Hurricane Maria.

"This declaration is going to get federal resources there quickly, and it's going to help people start rebuilding their lives, Biden said.

Biden sat at a center of roundtable with FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and NYC Mayor Eric Adams to his left, in the FEMA region 2 headquarters at One World Trade.

Adams described the team deploying from New York as "an interagency team, folks from the city's Parks Department, Department of Buildings, Department of Transportation, Department of Design and Construction and others who can provide technical assistance as we are doing assessments in different municipalities, to understand what the needs are."

They few out of JFK airport at 8 a.m. Thursday and included experts on logistics and transportation, buildings and construction.

Manny Martinez, a logistics specialist with NYC Urban Search & Rescue, is part of the team. Like many New Yorkers, Martinez is connected to the island, and seeing the latest images of devastation made him become proactive in helping.

"I'm from there," he told Eyewitness News. "It's an honor to be chosen to go. I'm ready to help.... The goal is, when we land, to get an assessment, report it back to our team to send a solid team to help out."

What they will find is devastation. Raging rivers, landslides, washed-out roads and bridges. And debris piled in the streets. Two-thirds of the island is still without power, four days after Fiona made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane.

In some places, the storm dumped more than 25 inches of rain in 72 hours. Entire towns and villages are completely cut off.

Already in Puerto Rico are two more members of Urban Search & Rescue, two people from NYC Emergency Management and an NYPD ESU officer.

"Right now, the most pressing is restoring electricity, and tomorrow our team will be met by a larger contingent, an interagency contingent, from the city," Emergency Management Commissioner Zach Iscol said. "Their job will be assess damage to infrastructure and essential services caused by heavy rains, flood and wind. and they will continue to work alongside our local partners and FEMA to make sure support is getting exactly where it is needed."

On the East Side on Thursday, Puerto Rican New Yorkers demonstrated outside Sen. Chuck Schumer's office, urging support for sustainable energy sources for Puerto Rico.

"This disaster started way before Maria, said David Galarza Santa with Casa Pueblo de Adjuntas. "This disaster started also, before Fiona. This disaster is manmade."

RELATED | Manhattan art exhibit holds fundraiser after Hurricane Fiona batters Puerto Rico

Fiona, which strengthened to a Category 4 storm that is now taking aim at Bermuda, has been blamed for directly causing at least four deaths in its march through the Caribbean, where winds and torrential rain in Puerto Rico left a majority of people on the U.S. territory without power or running water.

Hundreds of thousands of people scraped mud out of their homes following what authorities described as historic flooding, with much of the population still recovering five years after Hurricane Maria, which made landfall as a Category 4 storm and caused the deaths of an estimated 2,975 people.

NYCEM continues to monitor the situation in the Dominican Republic and other Caribbean countries, and the city stands ready to provide additional aid to those affected countries.

"Definitely we have to show the Puerto Ricans and the Dominicans that we are here ready to fight, shoulder to shoulder," said NYC DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez.

"Once again, our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and other Caribbean countries are facing darkness because of a devastating hurricane," Adams said. "With Hurricane Fiona leaving the region, we know that this is a painful moment for so many here in our city and across the globe. New York City stands with our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and all affected countries."

ALSO READ |New York City lifting COVID-19 vaccine mandate for private sector

A pharmacist prepares a syringe with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a COVID-19 vaccination site at NYC Health + Hospitals Metropolitan, Feb. 18, 2021, in New York.
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

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