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FEMA report: Lack of info led to problems after major 2017 hurricanes

By Ed Adamczyk
FEMA report: Lack of info led to problems after major 2017 hurricanes
The Puerto Rico National Guard patrols a flooded highway in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on September 22, 2017. A FEMA report Friday, on its handling of three major 2017 hurricanes, cited unpreparedness and under-staffing. File Photo by Sgt. Jose Diaz-Ramos/Puerto Rico National Guard/UPI | License Photo

July 13 (UPI) -- The Federal Emergency Management Administration faulted its own leadership for unpreparedness in the 2017 hurricane season, a new report said Friday.

The 65-page FEMA "after-action" report covered FEMA's responses to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, storms that hit the Gulf Coast, Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands. Hurricanes Nate and Jose later threatened the U.S. mainland and diverted attention and resources, the study said.

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FEMA said it had "staffing shortages across the incidents" by entering the hurricane season with "a force strength less than its target," a key finding by the report. It also "experienced challenges" in tracking resources across Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

The report said FEMA had little information in the first 72 hours on the progress of Maria as it ravaged Puerto Rico. A week later, it lacked information about the island's water supply and available hospitals.

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Puerto Rico's electrical grid was devastated by the hurricane, which caused $100 billion in damage. An accurate death count is still incomplete.

The FEMA report said combined, Harvey, Irma and Maria caused an estimated $265 billion in damage.

After Irma but prior to Maria, FEMA moved 80 percent of its emergency inventory from Puerto Rico to the Virgin Islands. The only remaining FEMA warehouse in Puerto Rico had no available cots or tarps, and only 98,000 ready-to-eat meals, the report found.

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FEMA Administrator Brock Long, in a letter with the report, said the agency response showed "governments need to be better prepared with their own supplies ... and to be ready for the financial implications of a disaster."

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, a vocal critic of the government response, said the points cited in the report were obvious to anyone who survived the storms.

"FEMA was unprepared and they lacked a sense of urgency, which resulted in neglect, which in turn resulted in the loss of lives," she said. "It is quite troubling that they were not able to adapt their operating procedures to our reality and, from what the report says, they did not even learn from their past mistakes."

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