An AP report on Tuesday confirmed what we already mostly knew about Hurricane Maria: FEMA didn’t do shit for Puerto Rico, even when people were begging the agency for help.
According to a letter from Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland and U.S. Virgin Islands delegate Stacey Plaskett which disclosed email and text communications from the days following the hurricane, officials from the Puerto Rican government and local supermarkets were left hanging by the federal agency while trying to stop food from spoiling.
Via the AP:
Emails and text messages made public Tuesday in a letter sent by the top Democrat on the House oversight committee describe frantic efforts by officials at Walmart and the Puerto Rican government to get fuel for generators to prevent food from going bad.
From the Federal Emergency Management Agency came only silence.
Within a three-hour time span, Walmart officials were able to connect, through email and text messages, with a congressman’s office and local Puerto Rican government officials. They passed on their urgent request for help, just two days after the hurricane made landfall.
Meanwhile, the letter states, FEMA remained unresponsive for days.
The letter, sent to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy, reportedly says that local supermarkets lost tens of thousands of dollars in perishable food, while a Walmart official told the AP that he didn’t know how much food was lost on their end. (Splinter reached out to Cummings’ and Plaskett’s offices for a copy of the full letter, and will update if we receive a response.)
The emails reportedly show a frantic effort between Walmart, the Puerto Rican government, and Illinois Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez to get the island what it needed, but FEMA just didn’t respond (emphasis mine):
Roughly an hour after that first email, Gutierrez’s office forwarded the email to a Puerto Rican government official. And 12 minutes later, the Puerto Rican government official responded: “FYI I’m sitting with FEMA rep right now so we are taking care of this.”
Walmart officials sent over a priority list of a dozen of their top stores — they operated 46 on the island — needing fuel to keep food from spoiling, in addition to their distribution center and home office.
“Fuel at this point is becoming a key concern as we are less than 24 hours left in maintaining power in most facilities,” the Walmart official wrote.
The message was forwarded by the Puerto Rican government official to a FEMA official 26 minutes later. But by Sunday, two days after initially reaching out, there was still no response from FEMA. The Puerto Rican government official texted Walmart that FEMA had not responded to numerous requests.
“The protection of life and safety is our first priority in any response, including working closely with the government of Puerto Rico to support the fueling mission for critical infrastructure,” FEMA spokesman Daniel Llargués told the AP.
“Since the beginning we made the local and federal governments aware of this, but as far as we know FEMA did not provide fuel or made trucks available to the private food distribution network,” Manuel Reyes, an official from the Puerto Rico Chamber of Marketing, Industry, and Distribution of Food, told the AP. Reyes also said that while FEMA provided “some fuel to hospitals,” the organization was “forced to establish our own distribution system for our members using retrofitted waste-water trucks in order to keep some stores opened and food from going bad.”
Usually, I’d fully support anyone logging off for a few days; we all need to unplug from online from time to time. But when you’re a FEMA official and the entire island of Puerto Rico just got destroyed by a hurricane and everyone there is begging you for help? Maybe don’t do that.
On a related note: at least one town in Puerto Rico still doesn’t have electricity or running water six months after the hurricane.