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Friday, September 8, 2017

How Trump incompetence has put the nation in danger in the worst hurricane season in years

Triple threat: no leadership, tapped out FEMA emergency funds and terminated flood insurance
It’s the Worst Storm Season in Years, and the Top Forecasting Posts Are Still Vacant
By Sarah Okeson

Image result for Trump & hurricaneFlorida is preparing to get hammered by the most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane in recorded history, but the National Hurricane Center doesn’t have a director, and Trump has yet to nominate anyone to lead the agency that oversees the center, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Trump said Irma, the behemoth larger than the state of Missouri and with winds of up to 185 mph, looks like “something that will be not good.” At least three people have died so far.

The hurricane hit the Caribbean island of St. Martin Wednesday where Trump has an 11-bedroom waterfront estate, Le Chateau des Palmiers, that is on the market for $16.9 million.

Related image
Le Chateau des Palmiers
The French government said it had delivered food and water to St Martin and St Barthelemy. Power was knocked out on both islands.

Five of the last six presidents nominated an administrator to lead NOAA by September. Former President Barack Obama announced he was going to nominate Jane Lubchenco before he even took office. Only George W. Bush waited until September to nominate someone to head the agency.

Trump’s proposed budget calls for cutting the NOAA by 16%. The retired chief of a team that releases hurricane warnings said the cuts could undermine progress in forecasting hurricanes.
“It’s hanging on really by a thread in terms of funding,” said James Franklin.

NOAA and the National Hurricane Center both currently have acting directors. Benjamin Friedman is leading NOAA. The acting director of the National Hurricane Center is Edward Rappaport.

The National Hurricane Center predicted an above average season this year, which began June 1 and lasts until Nov. 30. Harvey’s damage could be up to $180 billion, more expensive than Katrina, which hit Louisiana in 2005.

Europeans already do better than us in forecasting hurricanes in our nation. The European model, the ECMWF, correctly predicted that Harvey would stall over Texas. The NOAA’s new, experimental HMON bombed, putting Harvey in Mexico at the height of the hurricane.

On Wednesday, the European model was predicting a “most likely” landfall for Irma on the south Florida coast while other models had Irma out to sea along the East Coast. The National Hurricane Center revised its landfall track, switching it slightly to the east.

Hurricane predictions matter because they save lives. In 1900, a hurricane that hit Galveston, Texas, killed 6,000 to 12,000 people, the deadliest hurricane in our nation’s history. At least 70 people died in Harvey, which came ashore in a rural stretch of the Texas coast.

Irma hit the northeast Caribbean islands on Wednesday. Gaston Browne, the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, told reporters that Barbuda, a tiny island with a population of 1,600, was “totally destroyed.” Winds ravaged the U.S. Virgin Islands Wednesday, and the eye of Irma passed just north of Puerto Rico.

The height of the hurricane season is here, but our nation has a leader who doesn’t believe in better funding to help predict hurricanes or appointing a head of the agency that coordinates weather forecasting.

FEMA Is Almost Out Of Emergency Funds

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is expected to run out of money by Friday, just as Category 5 Hurricane Irma is expected to reach the U.S. mainland. 

FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund, which pays for the agency’s disaster response and recovery activity, is being spent at a rate of $9.3 million every hour, or about $155,000 a minute.

As recently as last week, the White House and Congressional Republicans were proposing nearly a $1 billion cut to the agency’s budget.

Category 5 Irma, with winds up to 185 mph, is the strongest storm on record outside of the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. The Category 5 hurricane could potentially reach wind speeds of 225 mph.

A mandatory evacuation for tourists in the Florida Keys began at sunrise. Monroe County’s three hospitals were beginning evacuation plans. No shelters will be open in Monroe County, and government offices, parks and schools will close. 

“For the Florida Keys, if you were to create the worst case scenario that is what we are looking at,” said Martin Senterfitt, director of the Monroe County emergency operations center.

Coverage for some Florida residents is to be canceled as Congress, FEMA and Trump tangle over costly program

As homeowners batten down windows and seek shelter from Irma, the Category 5 hurricane, the federal government promises to yank their flood insurance.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) quietly posted notice today that several communities right in Hurricane Irma’s path are scheduled for the suspension of their flood insurance by month’s end due to noncompliance with the floodplain management requirements of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).  Those communities include Daytona Beach, Fla., and surrounding areas in Volusia County. 

Also in Irma’s and FEMA’s crosshairs are several communities in Chester County, Penn.

FEMA has given these counties until Sept. 29 to comply with the policy requirements. If they do, they can keep their insurance, which enables many property owners to purchase the federal flood insurance otherwise not generally available from private insurance providers. FEMA has provided six-month, 90-day and one-month notification letters to communities of the impending suspension.

Once a community’s federal flood insurance has been suspended, it cannot be renewed. The community may also lose some types of federal assistance, too. For example, communities in flood-prone areas that don’t have this flood insurance won’t receive federal financial aid in construction or acquisition of buildings based on the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act.

That leaves home owners in a bind in flood-prone areas, such as Florida, which accounts for nearly 2 million of the roughly 5 million homes and businesses covered under the federal plan. Mortgages could be delayed for home buyers and home prices could increase as a result.

Congress and FEMA have been tangling with this issue for several months. The NFIP has been facing a Sept. 30 deadline for some time and Congress has been grappling with different ways to try to fix the issue, which comes down to money.

The National Flood Insurance Program is $25 billion in debt to the U.S. Treasury, mostly from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012, according to a story in USA Today.

As a result, annual interest rates alone cost $400 million—11% of all the premium dollars paid, which isn’t sustainable. FEMA had to borrow an additional $20 million in January just to meet interest payments in March due to heavy floods in the South and Midwest last year. And Trump wants to cut back the program even more, based on his FY ’18 budget proposal, and that could mean defunding the program altogether.

Lawmakers are expected to reauthorize the program, but in the wake of  Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana and impending damage from Irma in the Caribbean and along the East coast and whatever else the rest of the hurricane season brings, it could be an uphill battle.

In addition to Florida and Pennsylvania, FEMA also added some counties in Kentucky, Iowa, Minnesota and Hawaii to its list of impending insurance suspensions.