Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Study: Feds Response to Hurricane Maria Slower, Less Generous Than Responses to Texas and Florida Storms

Climate
A woman and child at a memorial of shoes displayed in front of the Puerto Rican capital in honor of those who died in Hurricane Maria. RICARDO ARDUENGO / AFP / Getty Images

Since the death toll in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria was officially raised to 2,975, it has been acknowledged as one of the deadliest disasters in U.S. history, and the deadliest hurricane in more than 100 years. But many have argued it didn't have to be that way, pointing to a less-than-adequate response from the federal government.


Now, a study led by members of the University of Michigan (UM) School of Public Health and published in the British Medical Journal Global Health Friday added fuel to those suspicions by comparing the government's response to Hurricanes Irma and Harvey in Florida and Texas the same year, and finding its actions in Puerto Rico both slower and less financially generous.

"What we found is that there was a very significant difference in not only the timing of the responses but also in the volume of resources distributed in terms of money and staffing," lead author and UM School of Public Health doctoral candidate Charley Willison said in a press release. "Overall, Hurricane Maria had a delayed and lower response across those measures compared to hurricanes Harvey and Irma. It raises concern for growth in health disparities as well as potential increases in adverse health outcomes."

The researchers compared disaster responses following the three hurricanes, accounting for the need of the survivors and the severity of the storm. They relied on Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) data, as well as congressional and media reports.

"The analysis shows that the disaster response to the three hurricanes did not align with storm severity and may affect deaths and recovery rates," Willison said.

Here are some examples of the disparities researchers discovered.

1. Within nine days of the storms' landfall, Hurricane Irma and Harvey survivors had received nearly $100 million from FEMA, while Hurricane Maria survivors had received little more than $6 million.

2. Federal on-site workers peaked at 31,000 in Texas following Harvey, 40,000 in Florida following Irma and only 19,000 in Puerto Rico following Maria.

3. Texas and Florida received in two months the aid that Puerto Rico had to wait four months to get in full.

The Puerto Rican government held up the report as proof of President Donald Trump's poor response to the disaster and as an example of long-standing inequalities between Puerto Rico and the mainland U.S.

"The study released today is further evidence that the federal government dragged its feet during the biggest disaster in our recorded history, which took the lives of almost 3,000 citizens," Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration Executive Director Carlos Mercader wrote in a statement to CBS News. "We can only hope that the mounting evidence serves to improve the federal government's response during the next natural disaster. Nevertheless, as long as we remain a mere territory without any say in our government, we will always get the short end of the stick in our fundamentally imperfect relationship with the United States."

The researchers also raised the issue of political representation.

"Not only was the lack of emergency response a likely contributor to thousands of avoidable deaths, it was also a reminder of the penalties of not being fully represented in federal politics," study co-author and UM health management and policy professor Scott Greer said in the UM release. "Democracy is a public health policy."

FEMA, however, defended its response to the storm, saying it had faced unique difficulties in delivering aid to Puerto Rico.

"An ideal response to any disaster is one that is federally supported, state managed and locally executed. FEMA's ability to provide support in disasters builds on, and is subject to, the capacity of the state, territorial, tribal & local governments," FEMA press secretary Elizabeth Litzow wrote in a statement to CBS News. "There were real challenges in Puerto Rico that had to be overcome—including aging infrastructure, a decayed power grid and liquidity issues."

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Women walk from Santa Monica beach after a social media workout on the sand on May 12, 2020 in Santa Monica, California. Al Seib / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Independence Day weekend is a busy time for coastal communities as people flock to the beaches to soak up the sun during the summer holiday. This year is different. Some of the country's most popular beach destinations in Florida and California have decided to close their beaches to stop the surge in coronavirus cases.

Read More Show Less
Daily fireworks in many U.S. cities in recent weeks have no doubt been interfering with the sleep and peace of mind of thousands of veterans and others who suffer from PTSD. Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Arash Javanbakht

For some combat veterans, the Fourth of July is not a time to celebrate the independence of the country they love. Instead, the holiday is a terrifying ordeal. That's because the noise of fireworks – loud, sudden, and reminiscent of war – rocks their nervous system. Daily fireworks in many U.S. cities in recent weeks have no doubt been interfering with the sleep and peace of mind of thousands of veterans.

Read More Show Less
Koala populations across parts of Australia are on track to become extinct before 2050 unless "urgent government intervention" occurs. Mathias Appel / Flickr

Koala populations across parts of Australia are on track to become extinct before 2050 unless "urgent government intervention" occurs, warns a year-long inquiry into Australia's "most loved animal." The report published by the Parliament of New South Wales (NSW) paints a "stark and depressing snapshot" of koalas in Australia's southeastern state.

Read More Show Less
NASA is advancing tools like this supercomputer model that created this simulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to better understand what will happen to Earth's climate if the land and ocean can no longer absorb nearly half of all climate-warming CO2 emissions. NASA/GSFC

By Jeff Berardelli

For the past year, some of the most up-to-date computer models from the world's top climate modeling groups have been "running hot" – projecting that global warming may be even more extreme than earlier thought. Data from some of the model runs has been confounding scientists because it challenges decades of consistent projections.

Read More Show Less
A child stands in what is left of his house in Utuado, Puerto Rico, which was almost completely destroyed by Hurricane Maria, on Oct. 12, 2017. U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Jon-Paul Rios. Flickr, CC by 2.0
By Mark Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope

To hear many journalists tell it, the spring of 2020 has brought a series of extraordinary revelations. Look at what the nation has learned: That our health-care system was not remotely up to the challenge of a deadly pandemic. That our economic safety net was largely nonexistent. That our vulnerability to disease and death was directly tied to our race and where we live. That our political leadership sowed misinformation that left people dead. That systemic racism and the killing of Black people by police is undiminished, despite decades of protest and so many Black lives lost.
Read More Show Less
President Trump's claim last September that Hurricane Dorian was headed for Alabama's gulf coast was quickly refuted by employees at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). An independent investigation found that NOAA's chief violated the agency's ethics when he backed Trump's warning and doctored map that used a Sharpie to alter the storm's path, as EcoWatch reported.
Read More Show Less

Trending

African bush elephants in the Makgadikgadi Pans Game Reserve in Botswana on Nov. 22, 2016. Michael Jansen / Flickr

More than 350 elephants have died in Botswana since May, and no one knows why.

Read More Show Less