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Biden approves disaster declaration as Puerto Rico assesses hurricane damage

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President Joe Biden declares a major disaster declaration for Puerto Rico after Hurricane Fiona slammed San Juan and other parts of the island on Sunday with maximum sustained winds of 85 miles per hour, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. Photo by Thais Llorca/EPA-EFE
President Joe Biden declares a major disaster declaration for Puerto Rico after Hurricane Fiona slammed San Juan and other parts of the island on Sunday with maximum sustained winds of 85 miles per hour, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. Photo by Thais Llorca/EPA-EFE

Sept. 21 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden has approved a major disaster declaration for Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Fiona, giving those affected by severe flooding, landslides and power outages access to emergency assistance.

Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi announced the disaster declaration Wednesday in a tweet.

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"This ensures that our town will have access to additional FEMA help to recover from the damage caused by this event," the governor said.

Pierluisi also tweeted photos showing a landslide and collapsed road caused by the hurricane's heavy rains and winds.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency started touring the damage Tuesday.

"Now that we find ourselves responding to Fiona, we're going to have an opportunity" to rebuild damaged roads and bridges in a more resilient way "so that they can withstand future impacts," FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell said at a news conference Wednesday.

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"In the South, there is significantly more damage that will take more time to restore," Pierluisi told reporters in Spanish.

As of Wednesday morning, more than 520,000 people had no access to water, according to Puerto Rico's Water and Sewage Authority and nearly 1.5 million customers were still without power following an island-wide blackout.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also declared a public health emergency in Puerto Rico on Wednesday.

The declaration gives the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services beneficiaries and their health care providers greater flexibility to meet emergency needs following Hurricane Fiona.

"We will do all we can to assist officials in Puerto Rico with responding to the impact of Hurricane Fiona," Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement. "We are working closely with territory health authorities and our federal partners and stand ready to provide additional public health and medical support."

In response to the storm, HHS deployed 25 people to Puerto Rico to work with FEMA and other emergency officials to aid the response to the Hurricane.

Fiona caused massive damage to the island, as Puerto Rico received more than 2 feet of rain and saw winds in excess of 100 mph.

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Fiona strengthened into a major hurricane on Tuesday and began to bring heavy wind and rain to Turks and Caicos. A storm is considered a major hurricane when maximum sustained winds exceed 110 mph.

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