FEMA: Apathetic or Unprepared?

Picture of an abandoned house in the Houston area stands on its last leg a year after Harvey hit. Photo by Cassandra Lyles August 2018.

By C.R. Lyles, Copy Desk Lead

After the calamity of Hurricane Harvey, many Texans were left homeless by nature itself. They were forced from their dirty, wet homes onto the dirty, wet streets. In a FEMA.gov article published in September of 2017, the Federal Emergency Management Agency reported, “With nearly 4.5 feet of rain and 130 mph winds, Hurricane Harvey propelled a disaster response that was the largest in Texas state history.” Many Texans turned to FEMA in hope of assistance but were met with little to nothing. FEMA responded shortly after the storm along with Red Cross and partnering shelters to aid victims of the storm’s wrath.  

According to FEMA.gov “FEMA supplied 3 million meals, 3 million liters of water, 9,900 blankets, 8,840 cots and 10,300 hygiene kits to the state for distribution to survivors.” Likewise, they also provided $186 million dollars to reimburse local and state agencies for the removal of debris and emergency protective measures. $5 billion was to be awarded for cleanup and damages. However, the cost of damages racked up to a whopping $121 billion. Only a small percentage of the population actually received government assistance.

By December 2017 FEMA reported that over 10 billion dollars had been given to help Texas recover. However, as reported by The Washington Post, the Kaiser Family Foundation and The Episcopal Health Foundation hosted a survey revealing that only 26% of victims who filed for assistance actually received assistance. 33% of people had been denied, and even more, applications are still in pending to be reviewed.

Almost a year later there are still areas of Texas left devastated by Hurricane Harvey. The counties who suffered the most from Harvey’s wrath are Port Arthur, Bear Creek, Rockport, Dickinson and Victoria, as stated by khou.com.  In an interview with The Guardian, a Texas native said, “It’s really sad that we’ve been overlooked and forgotten. Our mayor has done what he can as well as our city manager. We started out strong … and as time went by things changed.” With neighborhoods and businesses still in ruin, people have been left wondering if our government was fully prepared for a natural disaster of this magnitude.

kingwood-after
Kingwood after heavy rain from Hurricane Harvey. Photo provided by NOAA.

Texans weren’t the only ones who felt forgotten by FEMA, however. Just three weeks after Harvey, Puerto Rico was hit by the devastating Hurricane Maria. Likewise, Florida was hit with Hurricane Irma just days after Harvey hit Texas. Some citizens of Puerto Rico felt as though FEMA gave Texas more assistance than they received after Maria. FEMA’s Director of Public Affairs, William Booher made this statement to The Washington Examiner regarding this accusation, FEMA categorically rejects the idea that Puerto Rico was treated differently. FEMA provided Puerto Rico the same, if not more support, as we have for all presidentially declared disasters across the nation.”

No one could have predicted the raw strength of Hurricane Harvey, and it’s quite possible that after aiding Puerto Rico that a lot of the money and resources had become little to none. As reported by texastribune.org, “…the Federal Emergency Management Agency worried that it didn’t have the capability to handle what was quickly becoming the largest housing recovery effort in American history, according to Gov. Greg Abbott’s office.”  In the end, however, the communities of Texas have banded together in the face of tragedy and have managed to recover very well despite limited funding.

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