Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and now potentially Maria have devastated the United States in the past couple of weeks, wrecking entire cities and counties. Many people were affected by the hurricanes, but now that both storms have come and gone many are not thinking about the cleanup anymore.
Maria: Made landfall in Dominica late Monday, Sept. 18 as a Category 5 storm. The storm is projected to hit Puerto Rico, and residents are preparing for the worst. President Trump also spoke on the storm, issuing an emergency declaration for ”federal assistance to supplement the response efforts of the territory.” The storm is figured to last as a Category 3 or higher at least through the weekend.
Harvey: Made landfall Friday, Aug. 25 as a Category 4 hurricane near Corpus Christi, Texas. The storm ravaged the surrounding area dropping an average of around 40 inches of rain. Harvey then made its way up through Houston and then Louisiana, being reduced to a Category 1 storm Aug. 26. The most rainfall from the storm was over 50 inches, and many parts of Texas received their annual rainfall amount between Aug. 25 and Sept. 1.
Wednesday, Aug. 31, the New York Times reported that around 60,000 buildings were damaged in Texas due to the storm, 25 percent of which were severely damaged or completely destroyed. Along with the damage, the Texas Department of Public Safety reported that there were 35,000 people living in shelters outside of the Houston area by Wednesday, Aug. 30. The Washington Post reported on Sept. 14 that 82 deaths had been linked to Harvey, the majority of which being from flooding complications.
Irma: Made landfall on Sunday, Sept. 10 at the Florida Keys as a Category 4 hurricane. By this time, 6.4 million people were under voluntary or mandatory evacuation. The gusts of winds that hit Naples reached 142 mph and around 15-20 inches of rain were recorded during the storm. The majority of the flooding was due to the 10 to 15 foot storm surge (the water pushed to shore due to the storm’s pressure and winds) rather than the rainfall itself.
Florida Power and Lights, one of Florida’s largest power companies, reported on Sept. 17 that 4.4 million customers had lost power from Irma. Although many have had their power restored, there are still many without power. The death toll is still fluctuating due to the recency of the storm, but the Miami Herald reported that number is estimated around 40.
Both storms were devastating, but also very different from each other. Harvey’s main source of damage was the torrential rain that flooded Houston and the surrounding area, and Irma’s was the high wind speeds which downed power lines and trees. Both cites are left with huge amounts of debris, which will lead to sustained cleanup for the next few months.
Texas has received over $135 million for cleanup alone from the federal government’s $15 billion disaster relief package passed shortly after Harvey. The bill provides $7.4 billion directly to the victims of Harvey in some form, $450 million to the Small Business Association to help small businesses recover and another $7.4 billion for future disasters such as Irma, which was just days from making landfall when the bill was passed.
There are many critics of this bill, some thinking that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) should already have a larger budget to help with disasters like this. Brock Long, who is the head of FEMA, told CBS that these hurricanes are “a wake-up call for this country for local and state elected officials to give their governors and their emergency management directors the full budgets that they need to be fully staffed, to design rainy-day funds, to have your own stand-alone individual assistance and public assistance programmes.”
The Washington Post reported that as of Sept. 14, the American Red Cross has given $46.4 million to over 100,000 people affected by Harvey. In addition to this, $368 million has been given out in direct payments to Texas residents by FEMA, with around 735,000 people applying for help. For Irma, the official FEMA website reports that over $87 million has been approved as of Monday, September 18, $37 million of which was for housing assistance.
Although there is still a lot of federal money going to the victims of these storms, most of the money allocated is for infrastructure repair and cleanup. The people affected still need temporary items such as clothes, food, and shelter until they find a more permanent place to live. USAID’s Center for International Disaster said they recommend just giving money directly to “established relief agencies” for some of the greatest and fastest help. Some of these include: The American Red Cross, The Salvation Army, GlobalGiving, as well as the multitude of GoFundMe campaigns set up by affected families.