Hurricanes, wildfires make 2017 an unprecedented year for FEMA

(SBG San Antonio photo)

The names Harvey, Irma and Maria now carry a heavy weight for so many people. They were visitors of the most unwelcome kind.

Hurricane Harvey in Texas began an unprecedented year for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which provided record-breaking relief.

“The agency moved more commodities in the form of water, MREs [Meals Ready to Eat], generators, personnel in those 60 days than the agency had done in the previous 12 years combined,” said Jeff Byard with FEMA’s Office of Response and Recovery.

After the hurricanes came the wildfires – on track to be some of the largest in California’s history, which meant more need and more challenges for FEMA.

“When you get hit with multiple large disasters, the expectations from the first survivor of the first storm need to be the same as the expectations of the last survivor of the last storm,” said Byard.

The cost has meant multiple requests for supplemental funding for FEMA, which some lawmakers say is moving forward.

“There will be additional funds to make sure that FEMA is never without funds. The president has told FEMA to spend the money, to make the appropriate decisions and the money will follow,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., whose district was partially impacted by the fires.

That money is now likely to exceed $132 billion in disaster aid from congress if the final request passes.

But with much of Puerto Rico still devastated, some lawmakers charge FEMA hasn’t done nearly enough.

“I don’t have a lot of confidence in FEMA at this point; it’s not just throwing money, it is putting the infrastructure together to get the money to purchase the things that need to be purchased or to clean up the things that need to be cleaned up or to get to the people,” said Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J.

Many of those people will be spending this holiday season trying to put the pieces back together again.

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