President Donald Trump shakes hands with Gov. Ricardo Rossello of Puerto Rico during a meeting with FEMA administrator Brock Long. File photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo
Oct. 31 (UPI) -- Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Brock Long told senators Tuesday that the U.S. government is spending about $200 million every day on disaster relief from three hurricanes and a severe wildfire season.
Long detailed the federal disaster response in his hearing Tuesday.
"I've heard numbers inside from my finance guys that say we're probably spending about $200 million a day right now, just responding to the four disasters that we are facing," Long, appearing before a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing, said. "Each one of these events could truly be catastrophic, stand-alone events. But they happened in rapid succession of a 25 day period, which is obviously unprecedented."
He added that emergency funding exceeding the $51.5 billion already approved by Congress will probably be needed.
"I don't think we have a good handle on the total cost of this, but you can rest assured my guys will be in touch with your staff members to make sure we don't fumble the ball when it comes to disaster recovery, and we'll do our best to take care of taxpayer dollars," Long said.
Puerto Rico faces significant recovery after feeling the effects of both Hurricanes Irma and Maria, including rebuilding the power grid where 70 percent of the island's 3.4 million people have been without power for weeks.
Texas and Florida are also dealing with debris removal and finding housing for those displaced. California faces hazardous material removal and watershed management concerns.
"Everybody's in different stages, but the long-term recovery is going to be long," the FEMA administrator said -- noting that 2.5 million people have sought FEMA assistance in Florida, compared to 1 million in Texas from Harvey.
Puerto Rico's electric authority initially signed a $300 million contract with a small Montana firm, Whitefish Energy, to restore power on the island. Officials canceled the contract after it drew criticism from lawmakers.
"That was not our contract," Long said. "There was also language in there that would suggest that the federal government would never audit Whitefish. There's not a lawyer inside FEMA that would ever agree to that type of language."