Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
Washington, DC, United States (4E) – The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has admitted to a gross incompetence that prolonged the suffering of Puerto Rico residents reeling from the calamity inflicted by Hurricane Maria in 2017, and that contributed to a death toll that might reach 4,000 on the Caribbean island.
It took a year for FEMA to own up to its bureaucratic bungling and admit it greatly underestimated the devastation the Category 5 hurricaene wrought, thereby crippling the agency’s ability to react to the worst natural disaster in Puerto Rico’s history.
Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz of San Juan made headlines by attacking the Trump administration’s and FEMA’s response in Puerto Rico. She also publicly confronted FEMA at a news conference, saying the lack of better assistance could be described as genocide. Trump made matters much worse by praising FEMA’s response, saying he would rate it a 10 out of 10 (the highest).
The acknowledgement made in FEMA’s after-action report summarizing the agency’s performance in 2017 did nothing to silence the still smouldering criticism of the agency’s ineffectual response to the calamity. FEMA admitted as much saying its planning in the region was incomplete; did not adequately account for the possibility of multiple major disasters in a short amount of time, and underestimated the impact of “insufficiently maintained infrastructure” in Puerto Rico.
The report said FEMA’s leadership acknowledged the agency “could have better anticipated that the severity of hurricanes Irma and Maria would cause long-term, significant damage to the territories’ infrastructure.”
It said FEMA leadership “also recognized that emergency managers at all levels could have better leveraged existing information to proactively plan for and address such challenges, both before and immediately after the hurricanes.” Existing plans didn’t adequately account for the possibility of multiple major incidents such as hurricanes occurring in rapid succession.
A Harvard study released in May estimated that over 4,000 deaths were associated with the storm, contradicting an official estimate of 64. FEMA said the massive fatality estimate was being reviewed by the Puerto Rican government.
Astonishingly, FEMA Administrator Brock Long praised the agency in his opening remarks during the release of the report on July 12, saying FEMA responded to “historic” and “unprecedented” disasters.
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