The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was significantly underprepared to deal with the crisis wrought by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year, according to an agency report released Thursday.
The report backs up many of the criticisms that were leveled at the emergency relief agency in the immediate aftermath of Maria, one of the worst natural disasters to strike Puerto Rico in modern history.
The report found that FEMA was ill equipped to respond to the hurricane, following a series of storms that ravaged the Caribbean in the weeks prior.
For example, supplies were moved from a warehouse in San Juan, the territory’s capital, to the U.S. Virgin Islands after Hurricane Irma, creating “an immediate deficit of commodities” in Puerto Rico when Maria hit weeks later.
The report determined that FEMA’s planning for Maria was incomplete and was more akin to plans to address a more targeted event, like a tsunami or an earthquake.
“FEMA leadership acknowledged that the Agency could have better anticipated that the severity of hurricanes Irma and Maria would cause long-term, significant damage to the territories’ infrastructure,” the report reads.
“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.”
The report comes less than two months after a Harvard University study pegged the number of deaths from Maria at at least 4,600 – significantly hire than the initial official estimate of 64.
FEMA and the Trump administration faced blistering criticism in the aftermath of the storm, with many on the island accusing federal authorities of being slow to respond and unwilling to allocate the resources necessary for the territory’s recovery.
President TrumpDonald John TrumpEx-Russia ambassador: Trump has done more damage to NATO in months than Russia has in decades Trump takes credit for increased defense spending by NATO allies, but says ‘it isn’t nearly enough’ Trump questions how Russia probe can ‘proceed’ given FBI agent’s private comments MORE himself visited the island days after the storm, during which he said that Puerto Rico had thrown the U.S. budget “a little out of whack.”
“I hate to tell you Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack, because we’ve spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico,” Trump said.
The report released on Thursday said that FEMA had fewer personnel on the ground in Puerto Rico than it needed, and also determined that the agency relied too heavily on local and territory officials to assist, when in fact, many of those officials were survivors of the storm themselves.
The report also lays out a set of recommendations for addressing such disasters in the future, including updating plans for providing post-disaster housing and allowing FEMA more flexibility to work with other government agencies and private businesses.
“FEMA’s mission is bounded by laws and regulations, but for a disaster survivor, recovery is a continuum,” the report says. “As partners, we need to transform the way we facilitate recovery for the Nation’s citizens in the face of increasing severe weather events.”