GAO: FEMA was understaffed for 2017 hurricane season

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The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report Tuesday showing that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was overwhelmed and understaffed during the 2017 hurricane season.

The report highlighted that the close timing of Hurricanes Maria, Harvey and Irma spread FEMA staff thin as the agency reassigned people to the areas affected by the hurricane who were already assisting with other disasters.

The director of emergency management issues at the GAO, which authored the report, Chris Currie told the Wall Street Journal, “They were 30% understaffed when Harvey hit.”

“By the time Maria hit Puerto Rico, they were down to the bottom of the barrel,” he added.

{mosads}The report also specifically pointed to logistical challenges in reaching the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico as well as limited preparedness by the two territories.

In addition, the “incapacitation of local response functions due to widespread devastation and loss of power and communications led FEMA to assume response functions that territories would usually perform themselves.”

A FEMA representative told The Journal that the report “captures the complexity of the disasters,” including “concerns about workforce, housing programs, and logistical complications in the support of, and response to, the island territories.”

The GAO’s report comes after officials updated the Hurricane Maria death toll in Puerto Rico to 2,975 last week.

President Trump told reporters last week that he believes his administration “did a fantastic job” responding to Hurricane Maria and that it faced great logistical problems and weaknesses in the island’s own preparedness.

“Puerto Rico had a lot of difficulties before it got hit, and we’re straightening out those difficulties even now,” Trump said, pointing to infrastructure problems surrounding electricity and logistical problems facing FEMA workers.

Tags Donald Trump FEMA Gao Hurricane Harvey Hurricane Irma Hurricane Maria Puerto Rico US virgin islands

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