FEMA has no clue where $257 million in recovery supplies ended up

By The Star Staff

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) lost track of nearly $257 million worth of supplies, 98 percent of which was food and water meant to help Puerto Rico recover from hurricanes Maria and Irma, the agency’s inspector general found in a report published last week.

The agency took an average of 69 days to deliver supplies to the island, the inspector general said. Some food, water and other goods sat in FEMA custody in Puerto Rico for roughly 48 days. Approximately 37 percent of the water meant to ship to the island between September 2017 and April 2018 was delivered, and 45 percent of the food shipped by FEMA reached Puerto Rico.

In a response, FEMA said it worked with the inspector general’s office on the findings, but noted that the report’s characterization and some of the audit’s conclusions do not tell a complete story of its disaster response in Puerto Rico. The agency maintains that it “delivered a historic quantity of meals and water to Puerto Rico from September 29, 2017 through April 2018.”

Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 hurricane and the worst natural disaster to hit Puerto Rico, flattened the island, leaving it without power for months. Some 3,000 people are estimated to have died as a result of the hurricane.

According to the report, some supplies slated to be shipped to Puerto Rico likely never left the continental U.S., according to what employees at the agency’s emergency response center in Jacksonville, Fla. told the inspector general’s office.

The supplies — mostly food and meals, along with blankets, tarps, cots and sheets — were backlogged in two overflow sites in Jacksonville because FEMA did not record orders at all or quickly enough for employees to know what was being shipped and when.

FEMA also shipped food that was nutritionally deficient, according to the inspector general’s report, which “included junk food such as Oreos, candy, cereal bars” and other snacks.

The agency was unable to provide documentation for contractor invoices totaling about $50 million, the report said. FEMA indicated that it could not locate 19 shipping containers of food and water in its final assessment, the report says, amounting to $303,000 worth of lost contents.

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