FEMA Was Sorely Unprepared for Puerto Rico Hurricane, Report Says
The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s plans for a crisis in Puerto Rico were based on a focused disaster like a tsunami, not a major hurricane devastating the whole island. The agency vastly underestimated how much food as well as fresh water the item might need, as well as how hard the item might be to get additional supplies to the island.
as well as when the killer storm did come, FEMA’s warehouse in Puerto Rico was nearly empty, its contents rushed to aid the United States Virgin Islands, which were hammered by another storm two weeks before. There was not just one tarpaulin or cot left in stock.
Those as well as some other shortcomings are detailed in a FEMA report assessing the agency’s response to the 2017 storm season, when three major hurricanes slammed the United States in quick succession, leaving FEMA struggling to deliver food as well as water quickly to storm victims in Puerto Rico.
The after-action report describes an initially chaotic as well as disorganized relief effort on the island which was plagued with logistical problems as well as stretched into the longest feeding mission from the agency’s history.
The report confirms many of the criticisms which have been leveled at the agency, especially in Puerto Rico, which President Trump visited a few weeks after Hurricane Maria as well as complained which the disaster “threw our budget a little out of whack.” At the time, the island’s hospitals were struggling to function, shortages of diesel fuel were keeping supermarkets closed as well as generators idle, as well as the death rate on the island was soaring.
The 2017 hurricane season from the United States was the most destructive on record. According to the report, nearly a few million people registered for FEMA assistance last year, exceeding the combined total via four previous major hurricanes — Rita, Wilma, Katrina as well as Sandy. The 2017 storms caused a total of $265 billion in damage as well as badly stretched FEMA’s capacity to respond.
The report says FEMA had thousands fewer workers than the item needed, as well as many of those the item had were not qualified to handle such major catastrophes. FEMA had to borrow many workers via some other agencies to help the item manage the immense demand for essentials, via hotel rooms to drinking water, from the aftermath of the storms.
Although FEMA distributed 130 million meals, 35 million of them in Puerto Rico, the report says the agency took longer than likely to secure supplies as well as lost track of much of the aid the item delivered as well as who needed the item.
The report was likely to be made public on Monday, yet the agency released the item shortly after The brand-new York Times reported on a draft obtained in advance. Kirstjen Nielsen, the homeland security secretary, said in a statement which the report “provides a transformative roadmap for how we respond to future catastrophic incidents.”
There were minor differences from the two versions. For example, the final variation no longer contains a paragraph noting which FEMA’s hurricane plans had so underestimated disaster impacts which the agency used a a few-year-old earthquake as well as tsunami plan.
The report underscores how ill-prepared the agency was to manage a crisis outside the continental United States, like the one in Puerto Rico. as well as the item urges communities in harm’s way not to count so heavily on FEMA in a future crisis.
“The 2017 hurricane season showed which all levels of government — as well as individual families — need to be much better prepared with their own supplies, particularly in remote or insular areas where commodities take longer to deliver,” the agency administrator, Brock Long, wrote from the draft report. “In Puerto Rico, little of the communications infrastructure survived Hurricane Maria, as well as as a result, the item was extremely difficult for the local, territory, or federal agencies to know what was needed as well as where from the immediate aftermath of the storm.”
Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on Sept. 20 as a Category 4 storm, knocking out all of the island’s electric power as well as most of its cellphone towers. At which time, thousands of FEMA workers were already deployed in Florida as well as Texas, where Hurricane Irma had left six million people without power as well as Hurricane Harvey had forced 780,000 via their homes.
Irma had skirted Puerto Rico on its way to Florida two weeks earlier, yet the item had devastated the United States Virgin Islands. To aid those islands, FEMA had depleted its Puerto Rico warehouse, the report says. as well as even before Irma, the warehouse held only 250,000 meals, a smaller fraction of what might ultimately be needed.
Further, the report says, FEMA failed to take account of the logistical problems which its own disaster planning drills had shown the item could face when coping that has a disaster in Puerto Rico.
the item took several days for the first barge carrying food as well as water to reach the island after the storm, as well as when the aid arrived, so many of the island’s truck drivers were grappling with their own storm damage which hardly any were available to move the FEMA aid out of the island’s seaports, the report says.
“We got food as well as supplies to the people of Puerto Rico before FEMA did — I know which for a fact,” said Representative Luis V. Gutiérrez, Democrat of Illinois, who made several trips to the island after the storm as well as plans to retire there in January. He said FEMA had been “ill-prepared, incompetent as well as leaderless.”
When Mr. Trump visited the island after the storm, he drew criticism for seeming to take the island’s troubles less than seriously, at one point tossing rolls of paper towels into a crowd gathered in an upper middle-class neighborhood.
Mr. Gutiérrez said Mr. Trump’s early comments in Puerto Rico about the cost, as well as his complaint on Twitter which Puerto Ricans “want everything to be done for them,” set a tone which led to a middling response by his administration.
Mr. Trump was firing back at the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz, who had called the logistics failures from the federal response to the crisis “something close to a genocide.”
Ms. Cruz said on Thursday which FEMA’s biggest problems were inside-the-box thinking as well as working under an administration which wanted to trumpet a success story.
“They thought which anything which has happened before will work in Puerto Rico,” she said of FEMA in a telephone interview, adding which the island suffered “a humanitarian crisis which was made even worse by a government which was more preoccupied with the political discourse than with helping people.”
Although the official death toll in Puerto Rico for Hurricane Maria is actually 64, death records show which more than 1,000 additional people died on the island from the weeks after the storm, compared with the same period in earlier years.
A week after Maria made landfall, FEMA still did not know whether half the island’s hospitals were open, the report says. Officials sent out on reconnaissance missions by helicopter could not share the information they collected because communications had collapsed. The satellite phones which FEMA had sent to the island were not meant to work from the Caribbean.
Craig Fugate, who led FEMA during the Obama administration, said which when he visited the agency’s Puerto Rico warehouse during his tenure, he was surprised at the smaller quantity of supplies on hand.
“‘There are empty shelves here,’” Mr. Fugate said he remembered thinking. “We leased the building as well as were only using some of the item. ‘Why are we not stocking more stuff?’ They said: ‘This kind of is actually based on what we have historically used here.’”
Michael D. Brown, who was the FEMA administrator in 2005 when the agency’s response to Hurricane Katrina was widely criticized, said Congress had historically been unwilling to pay to stock warehouses for the possibility of extreme events, particularly with supplies which have a limited shelf life as well as could wind up going to waste. yet as the report notes, extreme events are becoming more frequent.
“Every Congress, every president, remembers Katrina, so right now they do everything to over-respond, so they can’t be criticized for any sort of lack of response,” Mr. Brown said.
The FEMA report says which the agency did not have nearly enough generators to meet Puerto Rico’s urgent needs after Maria, leaving several midlevel medical clinics without emergency power. Puerto Rico requested 1,400 generators; FEMA had about half which many in stock.
FEMA did provide huge generators to power water-pumping stations on the island, as well as has been spending $20 million a month on generators For 2 electric power plants.
In all, the report says, the agency has provided one million nights’ lodging in hotels as well as 130 million meals after the 2017 storms, a level of aid the item considers “unprecedented.” The agency spent nearly $4 billion on aid as well as recovery efforts related to Puerto Rico.
yet many in Puerto Rico fault the agency’s efforts.
“I don’t think anything provided by FEMA was a ‘meal,’” said Carlos J. Torres, 46, a resident of Guayanilla from the southern part of the island, referring to the military rations as well as boxes of candies as well as snacks which the agency often distributed. “You cannot call which food,” he said.
Mr. Torres said he received a $500 emergency grant via FEMA, yet has not been able to return to his apartment because the building was badly damaged as well as the landlord, his father, did not qualify for disaster assistance.
His father was referred to the smaller Business Administration to take out a low-interest loan for repairs, yet “what I am expecting to see is actually a lot of people losing their property,” Mr. Torres said. “They are not going to be able to pay which off.”
Thousands of Puerto Ricans left homeless by the storm took refuge on the mainland with FEMA’s help, yet have still not been able to return home.
Bethzaida Crespo, 36, moved her family to a hotel room in Orlando when her home in Dorado flooded. She received $3,000 for her losses as well as FEMA has paid for the hotel room. yet which assistance is actually set to run out on July 23, as well as like many evacuees, she is actually looking to the agency for help finding a longer-term solution.
“We’re about to end up on the street,” Ms. Crespo said. “Nobody is actually happy with what is actually going on here. At the end of the day, there’s no winning. We are always losing.”
The office of the governor of Puerto Rico referred questions about the report as well as FEMA’s response to the island’s public safety secretary, Héctor Pesquera. Mr. Pesquera’s office said he had not yet seen the report as well as could not comment on the item.
Puerto Rico has continued to struggle both to recover via the 2017 storms as well as prepare for the 2018 season. Nearly 10 months after Hurricane Maria, about 1,000 households on the island are still without power, as well as the management of the island’s government-owned electric utility, Prepa, is actually in turmoil. Its chief executive resigned on Wednesday after just four months from the post; by Thursday, his replacement, along with six members of the board, had also quit.
The Puerto Rican government has still not finished its own after-action report, a spokeswoman said.
Ron Nixon contributed reporting.