A Tale of Two Catastrophes

Back up a step. Did I say one hurricane away from disaster? Make that two hurricanes away from disaster. In early September of 2017 Hurricane Irma formed in the Atlantic near the Cape Verde Islands. It was slated to become the strongest storm on record ever to exist in the open Atlantic basin with sustained winds in excess of 157 miles per hour (Category 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale). Irma blew through the U. S. Virgin Islands on its way to Puerto Rico, dropping twelve inches of rain on St. Thomas and causing wide spread damage.

Irma delivered a glancing blow to Puerto Rico’s north shore the next day as a Category 5 hurricane because the eye of the storm stayed out to sea. Nonetheless it killed three people and left a million Puerto Ricans without power for days. FEMA responded by clearing out the Caribbean Distribution Center warehouse in Puerto Rico to aid the victims of Irma. To make matters worse Hurricane Harvey had just pummeled Texas and FEMA was running dangerously low on funds. So, I guess you might say three hurricanes all told.

Irma continued on to hit Florida as a Category 4 hurricane., knocking out power to 75% of the electrical customers in the Sunshine State. That was the big news of the day. Meanwhile Maria was forming out to sea. When Maria hit the Enchanted Island full force two weeks later as a Category 4 storm, 80,000 Puerto Ricans were still without power.

FEMA later opined that it’s hard to plan for hurricanes. It’s harder still to plan for three hurricanes that hit in a three-week time-frame. But, under the circumstances, I think we were remarkably successful.

Which is easy to say when you’re sitting home safe in Washington, D. C. When you’re cowering in a storm shelter in downtown San Juan, success is a relative thing.

Let’s tick off the high points.
Inadequate planning. Check.
Finger pointing. Check.
Lack of preparedness. Check.
Lack of infrastructure. Check.
Depleted budget. Check.
Lack of leadership at the top (more of which later on). Checkmate.

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