The nightmare that was Hurricane Maria continues. It should be over by now.
The Category 5 storm has been called the worst national disaster on record in Puerto Rico and Dominica and the 10th most powerful tropical hurricane. It struck Dominica on Sept. 18 and Puerto Rico two days later. The official death toll was 64, but The New York Times reported that as many as 1,052 may have perished.
The failures by the Federal Emergency Management Agency have been well-documented, but one that lingers with us was that a contractor that was supposed to have delivered 30 million meals came through with only 50,000.
Tribute Contracting LLC had experience working with the government and was given a $156 million contract for the job, according to published reports.
What strikes us about this failure is how eerily similar it seems to some of the problems 12 years ago, when Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, claimed 1,833 lives and cost $125 billion.
"It appears that the Trump administration's response to the hurricanes in Puerto Rico in 2017 suffered from the same flaws as the Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005," wrote Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland and Stacey E. Plaskett, the nonvoting delegate from the U.S Virgin Islands, both Democrats.
To its credit, the Bush administration posted online its lessons learned from self-admitted "key failures" responding to the storm, including this: "Often, government agencies failed to match relief needs with NGO (nongovernment organizations) and private sector capabilities. Even when agencies matched non-governmental aid with an identified need, there were problems moving goods, equipment and people into the disaster area. For example, the government relief effort was unprepared to meet the fundamental food, housing and operational needs of the surge volunteer force."
This is what happened with the food delivery after Hurricane Maria. The lesson went unlearned.
We think Republicans in Congress should take this issue seriously. They should ensure that all 17 of the lessons learned and recommendations from the Bush administration's failures during Hurricane Katrina are implemented immediately. Now is the time to do that. Not this summer, when a Category 5 storm is barreling down on yet another coastal town on the mainland or U.S. territories.
Meanwhile, misery continues for Puerto Rico. Thousands of families in dozens of states and on the island remain in hotels under FEMA's temporary shelter program, federal officials said. More than 1,500 were in Florida, while many others were in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York. More than 800 were in hotels in Puerto Rico, the Times reported. Many of the hungry have been fed and the displaced housed. But we believe the basic response resembled too closely the ineffective response to Katrina.
With a playbook already written, especially regarding the early identification of contractors to do the work everyone knows must be done, there's no excuse for the ongoing embarrassment that is Hurricane Maria.