FEMA Failure Wasted Food in Puerto Rico
Supermarkets in Puerto Rico threw out tons of perishable food after Hurricane Maria passed. If the island had been granted emergency fuel by FEMA, as had been asked for, that food could have fed many who desperately needed it.
That is part of the findings from representatives on the congressional House Oversight and Government Reform Committee investigating how the Puerto Rican crisis was handled post-maria.
According to Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-maryland), the ranking Democrat on that committee, Walmart and other stores had immediately sought help from FEMA after the hurricane had passed. The stores were asking for fuel that could help keep perishable items refrigerated so they could eventually be made available to those suffering with no food of their own.
In a report, Cummings and Rep. Stacey Plaskett (D-virgin Islands) wrote, “Senior officials at Walmart took extraordinary measures to try to convey their emergency requests to FEMA,” but FEMA did not respond.
The sequence of events began when, on September 25, an executive from Walmart said the company had only two days of generator fuel available at its Puerto Rican distribution center. That official sent a text to a Puerto Rican government representative, saying “It is critical that we keep that going in order to preserve our fresh inventory. If that goes down, it could take weeks to replenish, which would have a big negative impact on the island.” The Puerto Rican official answered the text with “Noted. I do not know what is going on with communication in FEMA right now.”
Two days later, on the deadline Walmart had advised was coming, Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rosselló got involved personally. He told FEMA Acting Regional Administrator John Rabin that generator fuel was needed “immediately.” The fuel was not just late. It never arrived.
Because the fuel never made it, according to the two congressional representatives, “it is unclear how many tons of perishable meat, dairy and produce were lost.”
Those representatives have demanded a subpoena to push FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to produce documents related to their disaster response.
In an email statement, a FEMA spokesperson said they knew about the congressional complaints and were working with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. They said that more than 13 million gallons of fuel, 63 million meals and 1,900 generators were delivered after the storm.
That may be true, but despite a request from the committee to the DHS and FEMA to produce documents related to the storm responses in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, nothing has come back from them in response. So far, the congressional representatives wrote, the only action has been “stonewalling” on behalf of the agencies, who at the time of the letter had collectively “not produced a single email [for the committee] relating to the hurricane in Puerto Rico.”
This is yet another gross FEMA failure in a posthurricane crisis that should have seen more advance planning and follow-up response. Another major fail from the agency connected with the same storm was covered in the Trillions article “FEMA’S Disturbing 30 Million Meal Fiasco in Puerto Rico.”