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Disaster Expert: FEMA’s Response in Puerto Rico More ‘Herculean’ Than in Texas and Florida

Former Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services Tevi Troy told Breitbart News: Sunday Edition that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had actually done an even better job managing Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico than it had in dealing with Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Hurricane Irma in Florida recently.

“I’ve been looking into this pretty carefully,” Troy said. “The truth is that FEMA — if you look at this in retrospect, we may find that FEMA did a more Herculean task, in some ways in Maria, in terms of the distance they had to travel, the amount of logisitcs they had to bring, and the propping up of the local response effort. So I think in time we may actually praise FEMA to some degree because they had to do more here than in the Harvey situation.”

Troy, who served in the White House under President George W. Bush, is an expert on the history of presidential responses to disasters. He is the author of Shall We Wake the President?: Two Centuries of Disaster Management from the Oval Office, and wrote an op-ed in late August in which he praised President Donald Trump’s response to Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana. “Mr. Trump’s handling of the hurricane response thus far is to be commended,” he wrote, adding — prophetically, given the storms that followed — “this is no time for complacency.”

With Hurricane Maria, Troy noted, FEMA faced additional hurdles. One was that Maria was only the latest in a string of devastating storms, so that the agency was suffering from some amount of “exhaustion.” In addition, FEMA faced several unique challenges in Puerto Rico:

It’s very hard to get the materials there that are needed that the FEMA people can bring stuff to an island, just like they do with any location, but it’s usually up to the locals to do the distribution. And that’s not possible in this situation, so that makes the whole situation harder. Also, by not being on the mainland, you don’t have the kind of ability of people to escape — like you saw in Florida, people going up [Interstate] 95 — and you also don’t have the ability of the Good Samaritans to come from afar. People came from hundreds of miles to help out in Houston, bringing supplies and rescue assistance. … Also, the first responders in the situation are victims themselves, which means they’re not necessarily showing up to work and doing the distribution and the rescuing and all the other stuff that takes place as part of recovery. So that also makes it a more difficult situation. So FEMA is doing the job of bringing supplies there, but they also have to do the local response efforts.

Troy noted that FEMA had learned much since Hurricane Katrina — the disaster to which Trump’s critics are eager to compare Hurricane Maria — but said that Puerto Rico’s weak economy and struggling government made the federal response to Puerto Rico’s problems more difficult:

A state with a strong economy and a strong response network — Florida and Texas, for example, are among the two best states at emergency response — that kind of place is easier to respond. That place has an easier time recovering because you have an existing strong economy, and you have an existing situation of a very strong response operation.

He also said that San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz went too far in fighting with President Trump. “It’s a general rule in emergency response that the locals should not be talking trash about the federal government, because the federal government is bringing assistance and help.”

Troy cited the example of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had praised President Barack Obama’s help despite backing his opponent in the election that was to be held a few days later. “It’s not always a good idea to bite the hand that feeds you.”

Troy noted that Republican presidents in particular seem to be targeted for criticism during hurricanes, and have been ever since Hurricane Andrew in 1992 contributed to negative impressions of President George H.W. Bush.

Breitbart News’ Curt Schilling, who was recently in Puerto Rico for his Operation Bullpen relief effort, spoke to Breitbart News Daily on Monday morning and warned that the situation in Puerto Rico was dire.

“We are within a week of something extreme,” he said, adding that the situation was “deteriorating rapidly” and might “fall off a cliff down there.” He also said: “The southeast part of the island is gone … It’s disappeared, and the people with it.”

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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