FEMA Administrator Responds to Critics: Storm Was 'Unpredictable'; 'Our Programs Support Everybody'

Susan Jones | October 3, 2022 | 6:03am EDT
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Workers and residents clear debris from a destroyed bar on San Carlos Island in Fort Myers on October 1, 2022, a few days after Hurricane Ian hit Florida. (Photo by GIORGIO VIERA/AFP via Getty Images)
Workers and residents clear debris from a destroyed bar on San Carlos Island in Fort Myers on October 1, 2022, a few days after Hurricane Ian hit Florida. (Photo by GIORGIO VIERA/AFP via Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) - As the hindsight brigades start second-guessing decisions made ahead of Hurricane Ian's landfall, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell tried to set the record straight on the Sunday talk shows.

Responding to a New York Times report that Lee County officials waited too long to issue evacuation orders, Criswell told Fox News Sunday the storm changed its anticipated track:

"You know, I think this storm, it was really dynamic, and it was very unpredictable for a long period of time. Just 72 hours before the storm made landfall, Lee County wasn't even in the hurricane path, right. It wasn't even in the predicted zone of where it was going to make impact. And it continued to move south day by day.

“As soon as the storm predictions were that it was going to impact Lee County, I know that local officials immediately put the right measures in place to make sure that they were warning citizens to get them out of harm's way.

“So, right now, we have resources in place, regardless of where the storm made impact, and that's why they're in those communities right now doing search and rescue and providing assistance as needed.”

On CBS's "Face the Nation," Criswell was asked to respond to Vice President Kamala Harris's comments about "equity" in the rebuilding process.

"It is our lowest-income communities and our communities of color that are most impacted by these extreme conditions and -- and impacted by -- by issues that are not of their own making," Harris told the Democratic National Committee's Women’s Leadership Forum on Friday.

"And so we have to address this in a way that is about giving resources based on equity, understanding that we fight for equality, but we also need to fight for equity, understanding not everyone starts out at the same place."

Criswell noted that "there are a lot of people" who need the kind of help FEMA provides: 

"And one of the things that I have known and I have experienced responding to other disasters, that there are people that often have a hard time accessing our programs.

"There's barriers to our program. And one of our focus areas since I have been in office is to make sure that we're removing those barriers, so these people that need our help the most are going to be able to access the help that we offer.

"I know that the vice president and the president, they share the same values. And, again, I was on the ground Friday and Saturday, and I committed to the governor then that we are going to provide assistance to all Floridians, because we know that there are people that are just completely devastated from the storm. We are going to be there to support everybody that needs help."

Host Margaret Brennan asked Criswell more directly if "skin color" figures in the relief effort:

"Again, Margaret, our programs support everybody," Criswell said:

"I would say I believe some of the things the vice president was talking about are the long-term recovery and rebuilding these communities to be able to withstand disasters, so they can have less impact.

“We're going to support all communities. I committed that to the governor. I commit to you right here that all Floridians are going to be able to get the help that is available to them through our programs."

On the question of rebuilding -- and whether it should happen in vulnerable areas -- Criswell said people "really need to understand what their risk is" and rebuild "more resilient."

"That's the key. We need to make sure that we have strong building codes, because we have risks all over. We've seen damage inland in the state. And we need to have building codes that can make sure that our properties can withstand the impacts that we're seeing from these severe weather events."

On "Fox News Sunday," Criswell noted that "where it rains, it can flood."

"People need to make sure that they're understanding what their risk is," she said: "While we require flood insurance for certain areas, it is available for everybody to buy. And so insurance is one of those best tools that you can have.

“And, again, if you're in an area where it rains, it can flood. And flood insurance is your best bet to make sure you can protect your belongings."

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