Politico: How Trump favored Texas over Puerto Rico
March 27, 2018
Key Point: “A POLITICO review of public documents, newly obtained FEMA records and interviews with more than 50 people involved with disaster response indicates that the Trump administration — and the president himself — responded far more aggressively to Texas than to Puerto Rico.”
A POLITICO investigation shows a persistent double standard in the president’s handling of relief efforts for Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Maria.
By Danny Vinik
March 27, 2018
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — As Hurricane Maria unleashed its fury on Puerto Rico in mid-September, knocking out the island’s electrical system and damaging hundreds of thousands of homes, disaster recovery experts expected that only one man could handle the enormity of the task ahead: Mike Byrne.
But Byrne, a widely acknowledged star of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, remained in Houston, which had been ravaged by Hurricane Harvey less than a month earlier.
Today, disaster recovery experts still express shock that FEMA kept Byrne in an already-stabilizing Texas and didn’t send him to Puerto Rico for three more weeks. But now, the decision strikes many as emblematic of a double standard within the Trump administration. A POLITICO review of public documents, newly obtained FEMA records and interviews with more than 50 people involved with disaster response indicates that the Trump administration — and the president himself — responded far more aggressively to Texas than to Puerto Rico.
“We have the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. We go anywhere, anytime we want in the world,” bemoaned retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, who led the military’s relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina. “And [in Puerto Rico] we didn’t use those assets the way they should have been used.”
No two hurricanes are alike, and Harvey and Maria were vastly different storms that struck areas with vastly different financial, geographic and political situations. But a comparison of government statistics relating to the two recovery efforts strongly supports the views of disaster-recovery experts that FEMA and the Trump administration exerted a faster, and initially greater, effort in Texas, even though the damage in Puerto Rico exceeded that in Houston.
Within six days of Hurricane Harvey, U.S. Northern Command had deployed 73 helicopters over Houston, which are critical for saving victims and delivering emergency supplies. It took at least three weeks after Maria before it had more than 70 helicopters flying above Puerto Rico.
Nine days after the respective hurricanes, FEMA had approved $141.8 million in individual assistance to Harvey victims, versus just $6.2 million for Maria victims.
During the first nine days after Harvey, FEMA provided 5.1 million meals, 4.5 million liters of water and over 20,000 tarps to Houston; but in the same period, it delivered just 1.6 million meals, 2.8 million liters of water and roughly 5,000 tarps to Puerto Rico.
Seventy-eight days after each hurricane, FEMA had approved 39 percent of federal applications for relief from victims of Harvey, versus 28 percent for Maria.
Those imbalances track with another one: the attention of President Donald Trump. In public, Trump appeared much more concerned with the victims of Harvey than Maria. He visited Houston twice during the first eight days after the hurricane, but didn’t visit Puerto Rico for 13 days. In the first week after the disasters, Trump sent three times as many tweets about Harvey as Maria — 24 about the plight of Texas and eight about Puerto Rico, including a series of comments about Puerto Rico’s debt level and quality of infrastructure that local officials considered insulting and enraging while lives were still in jeopardy.