FEMA Fail­ure Wasted Food in Puerto Rico

Trillions - - Contents -

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.”

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