FEMA Emptied Its Puerto Rico Warehouse Just Before Maria Struck

(Bloomberg) -- The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s warehouse on Puerto Rico was full of supplies for an event just like Hurricane Maria: a quarter-million meals, 718,370 liters of water, 4,422 cots and 13,272 tarps.

But a new report says FEMA removed most of those supplies just days before Maria hit, sending them to the U.S. Virgin Islands, which had just been struck by Hurricane Irma. By Sept. 15, FEMA had taken out 90 percent of the bottled water, 61 percent of the meals and 100 percent of the tarps and cots from its warehouse.

Five days later, Maria struck Puerto Rico, closing its ports and preventing FEMA from shipping supplies back onto the island.

That finding is tucked among the details contained in the “After-Action Report” released by the agency Thursday night. The report examines the mistakes FEMA made before, during and after last year’s historic storms, and makes recommendations for preventing a repeat of those mistakes. Many of the missteps relate to the agency’s failure to anticipate the severity of last year’s hurricanes.

“In response to Hurricane Irma impacts, FEMA distributed more than 80 percent of its inventory for selected commodities from the Caribbean Distribution Center warehouse” in Puerto Rico, according to the report. “Hurricane Maria struck before supplies were replenished.”

The report recommends that FEMA increase the amount of supplies it stocks outside the continental U.S., as well as developing “a more comprehensive understanding of local, regional and national supply chains.”

A spokeswoman for FEMA, Jenny Burke, said the agency has vastly increased its supply of materials on Puerto Rico. That includes 35 times as much bottled water, 43 times as many tarps and 16 times as many meals as were stocked on the island at the start of last year’s hurricane season.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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