Hurricane Irma was the most powerful Atlantic hurricane in recorded history. It was a Category 5 storm with 185 mile-per-hour winds for 37 hours straight, causing catastrophic damage across Puerto Rico, Florida, the Bahamas, and more.
It’s been one year since Hurricane Irma first made landfall, causing roughly $64.8 billion in damage, making it the fifth-costliest Atlantic hurricane in history. Though businesses, homes, and families took the brunt of the storm, agricultural farmland, 87% of which is owned and operated by individuals or families, was ravaged, as well.
Additionally, the storm led to much more than just physical damage across the U.S. and Puerto Rico. Hurricane Irma caused complete chaos, mass confusion, and all kinds of logistical problems — especially when it comes to evacuation protocol.
“We called for Level A — possible B — evacuation. We really got a C or D level evacuation,” said Preston Cook, emergency management director for Hillsborough County. “We sheltered over 30,000 people over 60 shelters. We had to adapt. Don’t let fear come into the plan. Last year, Irma was a big, scary storm and it brought a lot of that human emotion.”
There were plenty of concerns in the weeks and months following the storm, well after the danger has passed.
Since emergency crews, governments, and community officials have had a year to reflect on Hurricane Irma, they are now turning their attention in order to focus on preventing such damage and avoiding some of those problems. Though damage control and prevention is a top priority, debris removal and fraud prevention remains essential, as well.
Last year, officials provided little to no oversight of debris removal, which led to all kinds of fraudulent operations. According to the Miami Herald, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reimburses much of the cost of state and community disaster pickup.
“Without adequate guidance and oversight of debris removal by FEMA, state officials and sub-recipients, there is increased risk of fraud, waste, and abuse at great cost to the taxpayers,” read a Homeland Security Office of Inspector General (OIG) report.
Investigators visited several debris drop-off sites across Florida and found that these areas were primarily being monitored by contracted workers who were not properly inspecting trucking loads, and were instead approaching the haulers for payments based on cubic yards of debris they supposedly collected.
“We observed a monitor who provided haulers load calls of 90 to 95% volume of the certified truck capacity, even though the trucks were not that full,” the OIG report added. “Instead, the trucks contained large stumps that did not that up to 90 and 95% of the truck’s available space.”
Even though Hurricane Irma was incredibly costly, that number could have been drastically lower if proper monitoring practices were in place when it comes to damage pickup after the storm.
“Inadequate monitoring poses risks of overstated debris removal activity and questionable costs for reimbursement,” the OIG report states. “Following Hurricane Irma, FEMA lacked oversight of the debris removal process in Florida.”
Thankfully, a new program aimed at assisting those still in need of Hurricane Irma-related repairs is on its way.
The State Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) has announced a new program to assist low-income families in order to provide economic relief for repair expenses.
“There are still a lot of unmet needs out there, so we listened to those communities,” added Cissy Proctor of the DEO. “Rebuilding and replacing housing was the biggest need, so that’s what we are going to be focusing on.”