As Congress nears agreement on emergency hurricane spending, the Federal Emergency Management Agency warned lawmakers it is “getting close” to depleting its aid, federal officials said Thursday.
On the heels of Hurricane Harvey striking Texas, in what could be the most expensive disaster in history, Hurricane Irma is bearing down on Florida. Emergency aid is moving faster than in past disasters because of the scope of Harvey and because electronic payments allow for faster disbursement.
President Trump proposed a first installment of $7.9 billion in emergency aid, which the House approved Wednesday. The Senate voted Thursday to approve $15.25 billion in hurricane aid, a figure that must be reconciled with the House. Congress is expected to reach a compromise before FEMA’s funding is drained.
Department of Homeland Security officials have conveyed to lawmakers that the money is urgently needed, according to spokesman David Lapan. “We’re getting close and there needs to be action,” he said.
FEMA has positioned nearly 7.5 million meals and 11 million liters of water in Alabama, in anticipation of Irma striking Florida and other states in the Southeast, Lapan said. Cots, blankets, generators and medical equipment have also been staged to cope with anticipated damage, he said.
“We’re watching closely the possible impacts to Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina, as well as Florida,” Lapan said.
About 2,600 federal workers including 1,000 for FEMA are stationed in the Southeast to deal with the hurricane and aftermath, Lapan said.
Six mobile emergency-response personnel have been sent to the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, Lapan said. Two FEMA incident management assistance teams are on site in the emergency operations center in Tallahassee, one is in South Carolina for any assistance there, and liaisons are in North Carolina and strategically positioned in Florida and Georgia counties, Lapan said.
Irma has already killed 10 people, left thousands homeless and caused devastating damage cross the Caribbean.
FEMA preplaced 93,000 meals and 43,000 liters of water on St. Thomas, 96,000 meals and 48,000 liters of water on St. Croix, 20,000 meals and 18,000 liters of water on St. John and 290,000 meals and 600,000 liters of water on San Juan, Puerto Rico, Lapan said.
Trump signed emergency declarations on Monday for all 67 counties in Florida indefinitely, and on Tuesday running through Saturday for the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Kenneth Mapp, governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands, asked Wednesday for an expedited major disaster declaration on Wednesday, and Trump signed a declaration for a major disaster Thursday for the Virgin Islands, including St. John and St. Thomas.
The order provides assistance such as grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans for uninsured damage and other help. Federal funding is available to the territory and certain nonprofit organizations.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster has also requested an emergency declaration on Sept. 6, which is under review. Trump signed a declaration Thursday for the state, which includes federal assistance to pay 75% for emergency protective measures.