FEMA Director: Puerto Rico Damage ‘Most Logistically Challenging Event the United States Has Ever Seen’

By Susan Jones | October 2, 2017 | 6:33am EDT
Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Brock Long spoke about the federal response to hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico on "Fox News Sunday." (Screen grab from Fox News Sunday homepage)

(CNSNews.com) – “Look, we’re not going to be satisfied until the situation is stabilized” in hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico, FEMA Director Brock Long told “Fox News Sunday.”

“And the bottom line is, is this is the most logistically challenging event the United States has ever seen, and we have been moving and pushing as fast as the situation allows. Every day, we make progress. Every day, we have some setbacks.”

Long noted that before relief supplies can flow to isolated areas, the roads have to cleared or even rebuilt:

“We've opened up 11 major highways,” Long said. “But this morning, there are over 3,200 different problems reported with the roadway systems, from bridges missing to roads being blocked by floodwaters, to roads just disappeared because of landslides. So, we're having to work for all that.”

Long said even with the logistical challenges, a “massive amount” of supplies are flowing into 11 regional distribution hubs, and FEMA also is working to get the private sector,  including grocery stores, up and running.

“Over half the grocery stores...and retailers are beginning to operate now at a baseline level. Over 300 pharmacies are beginning to operate over a baseline level. These are signs that routine is going back and that progress is being made.

“Do we have a long way to go?” Long asked. “Absolutely, we have a long way to go.”

Long reminded people that Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands have been hit by two major hurricanes in the space of ten days:

“The bottom line is, is you can only shove so much into an island pre-storm because if you pushing too much stuff, the storm may damage it. So, we had to pull back, not only equipment and staff, because we don't want to soak up vital shelter space, we want to continue to push forward after the fact and move more equipment in. The ports were damaged. The airports were damaged.”

The mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico has complained about the federal disaster response, prompting angry tweets from President Donald Trump, including this one on Saturday:

“The mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump. Such poor leadership ability by the mayor of San Juan and others in Puerto Rico who are not able to get their workers to help. They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort," Trump tweeted.

On Sunday, FEMA Director Long told Fox News: “So, the problem and the frustration is, is the way information is being misrepresented across the board. I don't have time for that. What we have time for is being laser-focused to help Puerto Ricans. And that's what we're doing.”

Long urged Fox News to go to the joint field office in San Juan, where federal and local officials are working together:

“You should go see that operation, where we are having daily conversations with all the mayors, we're working with the governor and his leadership, to be able to create unified objectives. If mayors decide not to be a part of that, then the response is fragmented.”

The mayor of San Juan did not attend FEMA emergency planning sessions.

“You know, we can choose to look at what the mayor spouts off or what other people spout off, but we can also choose to see what's actually being done. And that's what I would ask,” Long said.

Long noted that the infrastructure in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands was “incredibly fragile” to begin with. And he said most of the emergency response fell on “federal shoulders.”

“You know, we have nearly 13,000 people working in both islands. You know, both island territories right now trying to do everything they can to push forward and push forward. And that capacity grows every day,” Long said.

“So, I think we have to …filter out the noise and we have to continue to push forward. My guys back here have been busting their rear ends day in and day out for almost 40 days now to help Americans. And it's been incredibly complex. There's not a person in this country that would change jobs with me right now.”

Long said the priorities are to get the electricity back on and communications back up. But he said it will take “multiple months” before that happens because much of the power grid was a “total loss.”

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