Biden pledges $60M for hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico

U.S. President Joe Biden has pledged that the government will not abandon Puerto Rico as it starts to rebuild again, five years after the more powerful Hurricane Maria devastated the U.S. territory in 2017.

U.S. president will also visit Florida on Wednesday in wake of Hurricane Ian

U.S. President Joe Biden reacts as he holds his sunglasses while arriving in Port of Ponce, Puerto Rico, on Monday to survey damage from Hurricane Fiona. Tens of thousands of people in the U.S. territory remain without power two weeks after the storm hit. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

U.S. President Joe Biden promised to "rebuild it all" after arriving in Puerto Rico on Monday to survey damage from Hurricane Fiona, as tens of thousands of people remain without power two weeks after the storm hit.

"I'm committed to this island," he said after receiving a briefing from local officials, acknowledging that Fiona was only the latest in a string of disasters that have battered the U.S. territory in recent years.

"Puerto Ricans are a strong people," Biden said. "But even so, you have had to bear so much, and more than need be, and you haven't gotten the help in a timely way."

Power has been restored to about 90 per cent of the island's 1.47 million customers, but more than 137,000 others, mostly in the hardest hit areas of Puerto Rico's southern and western regions, continue to struggle in the dark. Another 66,000 customers are without water.

The weather remained ominous as Biden spoke. Thunder rumbled and lightning flashed in the distance.

"I don't want the headline to read, 'Biden brings storm to Puerto Rico,'" he joked. "So I'm gonna maybe have to cut this a little short."

People in Yauco, Puerto Rico, line up for food on Sept. 26, more a than a week after Hurricane Fiona struck. (Ricardo Ortiz/Reuters)

Biden has pledged that the U.S. government will not abandon Puerto Rico as it starts to rebuild again, five years after the more powerful Hurricane Maria devastated the island in 2017.

Biden announced that the administration will provide $60 million US through last year's bipartisan infrastructure law to help Puerto Rico shore up levees, strengthen flood walls and create a new flood warning system so the island will be better prepared for future storms.

Florida also reeling from storm damage

People in Florida also faced another week without power, and others were being rescued from homes inundated with lingering floodwaters in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian.

Frustrations mounted in the path that the storm cut through Florida, and the hurricane's remnants, now a nor'easter, weren't done with the U.S.

The mid-Atlantic and northeast coasts were getting flooding rains. Forecasters said the storm's onshore winds could pile even more water into an already inundated Chesapeake Bay and threatened to cause the most significant tidal flooding event in Virginia's Hampton Roads region in more than a decade.

Men carry a woman in a wheelchair
Rescuers help evacuate resident Suzanne Tomlinson, as they carry her to a waiting boat in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian on Florida's Pine Island, in Lee County on Sunday. The only bridge to the island is heavily damaged, so it can only be reached by boat or air. (Gerald Herbert/The Associated Press)

Norfolk and Virginia Beach declared states of emergency as they watched to see how bad Monday's tides would be. Coastal flooding was possible from North Carolina's Outer Banks to Long Island, the National Weather Service said.

At least 68 people have been confirmed dead — 61 in Florida, four in North Carolina and three in Cuba — since Ian made its first landfall on the Caribbean island on Sept. 27 and in Florida a day later.

Search-and-rescue efforts were still ongoing Monday in Florida. More than 1,600 people have been rescued statewide, according to Florida's emergency management agency.

Fort Myers Beach Mayor Ray Murphy told NBC's Today Show that residents who evacuated were largely being kept away from their homes because of searches likely to last a few more days.

Waterways overflowing

Washed-out bridges to barrier islands, flooded roadways, isolated cellphone service and a lack of water, electricity or the internet left hundreds of thousands still isolated. The situation in many areas wasn't expected to improve for several days because waterways were overflowing, leaving the rain that fell with nowhere to go.

In DeSoto County, northeast of Fort Myers, the Peace River and tributaries reached record high levels.

Many residents in the rural county of about 37,000 people could only be reached by boat. What roads remained above water were blocked, according to the Nassau County Sheriff's Office, which was assisting with the efforts.

"Right now we working on creating teams to help find stranded residents, and we are dispatching ATVs to help get rid of debris on roadways that were impossible to travel over," deputies wrote in a Facebook post.

Florida storm damage
Beachgoers on Monday survey the damage done by Hurricane Ian in Daytona Beach Shores, Fla. Hotel and condo seawalls and pool decks along the Volusia County coastline were gutted by the storm last week. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/The Associated Press)

In rural Seminole County, north of Orlando, residents donned waders, boots and bug spray to paddle to their flooded homes on Sunday.

Ben Bertat found 10 centimetres of water in his house by Lake Harney after kayaking there.

600,000 Florida homes, businesses still without power

"I think it's going to get worse because all of this water has to get to the lake," Bertat said, pointing to the water flooding a nearby road. "With ground saturation, all this swamp is full and it just can't take any more water. It doesn't look like it's getting any lower."

About 600,000 homes and businesses in Florida were still without electricity on Monday morning, down from a peak of 2.6 million. But that is still nearly the same amount of customers in all of Rhode Island.

The current goal is to restore power by Sunday to customers whose power lines and other electric infrastructure is still intact, Kevin Guthrie, director of Florida's Division of Emergency Management, said Monday. It does not include homes or areas where infrastructure needs to be rebuilt.

U.S. President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, plan to visit the state on Wednesday.

In Virginia, the U.S. navy postponed the first-ever deployment of the U.S.S. Gerald R. Ford, the country's most advanced aircraft carrier, according to a statement from the navy's 2nd Fleet. The carrier and other U.S. ships were scheduled to leave Norfolk on Monday for training exercises in the Atlantic Ocean with vessels from other NATO countries.

Coast Guard, municipal and private crews have been using helicopters, boats and even Jet Skis to evacuate people over the past several days.

After moving across Florida, Ian made another landfall in the U.S. in South Carolina as a much weaker hurricane. Officials said on Monday that crews were finishing removing sand from coastal roads and that nearly all power had been restored.

Residents who rode out the storm arrive at a dock to evacuate by boat in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, on Pine Island, Fla., on Sunday. (Gerald Herbert/The Associated Press)