FEMA Leader Missing in Action as White House Seeks To Show Concern for Flood-Stricken Rhode Island Residents

By Penny Starr | April 2, 2010 | 4:02 PM EDT

Floodwaters remain in parts of southern Rhode Island, Friday, April 2, 2010. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano flew over flooded swaths of Rhode Island on Friday, calling the damage significant and saying she's considering a plea by officials for additional federal aid for the economically battered state. (AP Photo/Gretchen Ertl)

(CNSNews.com) – Press secretaries for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would not disclose the whereabouts of FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate as of Friday afternoon.
The FEMA announced one day after President Barack Obama signed a disaster declaration on Tuesday for Rhode Island, which is facing the worst flooding in 200 years, that Fugate would be traveling to Orlando, Fla., to give a speech on Wednesday.
Fugate, who formerly served as director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management and has a home with his wife in Gainesville, gave a speech on Wednesday afternoon at the National Hurricane Conference in Orlando. The weather there this week has been sunny, with temperatures in the 80s, according to the National Weather Service.
FEMA Press Secretary Brad Carroll did not respond to requests on Friday from CNSNews.com asking where Fugate was on Thursday and Friday. DHS Press Secretary Clark Stevens also did not respond to the same questions. Both men also did not answer whether Fugate was on vacation this week.
To date, no one in the Obama administration has disclosed where Fugate has been since making a speech on Wednesday afternoon -- a phone call made by CNSNews.com on Thursday confirmed that Fugate was not registered at the Orlando Hilton, where the hurricane convention was held.
Fugate has not issued any statements on the rainstorms and flooding in the Northeast since Wednesday, when FEMA announced that Fugate had named Craig. A. Gilbert as the federal coordinating officer for the federal recovery operation in the region.
A press release posted on FEMA’s Web site on Wednesday reported that Fugate would attend the Orlando conference and included a quote by the administrator.
"FEMA is only one part of the nation's emergency management team," said Fugate. "As hurricane season approaches, FEMA is coordinating with state and local officials to ensure that all communities along the coast are prepared to respond. But we can only be as prepared as the public, and so it's important that everyone take steps now to help keep their family safe in the event of a hurricane or other emergency."
The storm earlier this week dumped 8.75 inches of rain in East Providence, 7.6 inches in downtown Providence and 5 inches in Cranston, Tom Econopouly of the Northeast River Forecast Center in Massachusetts, told CNN wire reporters.
The National Weather Service said it did not expect the Pawtuxet River, source of much of the flooding, to go below flood stage until at least Sunday.
Officials expect it could take weeks to assess the total damage, and rebuilding is predicted to cost millions.
As reported on Thursday by CNSNews.com, Carroll issued a statement by e-mail saying that Fugate “has been in Florida this week,” but did not state specifically where he was on Thursday or whether he intended to visit Rhode Island.

Carroll's statement said: "The FEMA Administrator has been in Florida this week attending the National Hurricane Conference, meeting with key partners as we prepare for the upcoming Hurricane Season.  He remains in contact with Secretary Napolitano, state and local officials, congressional representatives and first responders on the ground as we work to support the ongoing response to the flooding. 
“Rich Serino, the Deputy Administrator at FEMA, a career first responder and Boston native, will travel to Rhode Island in support of Secretary Napolitano tomorrow as they survey the damage and meet with state and local officials to make sure that they have the resources they need as we confront these floods.”