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US hurricane hotspots brace for busy year as FEMA cash dries up

His home wrecked by flooding, Texas resident Kevin McKinney had to borrow money from his wife’s retirement fund to cover some of the cost of repairing damage wrought by the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

“I had three feet (0.9 meters) of water in my home for eight days,” McKinney told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, saying 500 fellow residents had “lost everything” due to flooding in the storm’s wake.

Nearly seven years on, and with forecasters projecting an especially fierce hurricane season, McKinney fears another big storm could strike his neighborhood in the city of Richwood.

Several deadly storms have already hit Texas this year.

“You look at the projections this year … (and) I think we’re in pretty (big) trouble,” McKinney said. “I hope not, but we all are on pins and needles.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has forecast up to 25 named storms and an 85% chance of more hurricane activity than normal.

“This year we’re exceptionally concerned about the Texas coast, Florida Panhandle, South Florida, and the Carolinas,” said Alex DaSilva, lead hurricane forecaster for the weather forecasting company AccuWeather.

At the same time, concern is growing that the federal government may already be running out of funds to respond to weather-related disasters that are becoming more frequent and destructive due to climate change.

The latest projections by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) suggest its disaster relief fund – used to respond to major disasters – is forecast to run a deficit by September, as it had been on track to do last year.

“I hope last year was an anomaly, (but) the fact is we are trending towards … more costly disasters, which is going to necessitate that fund being available and robust,” said Chad Berginnis, executive director of the Association of State Floodplain Managers.

When the fund approached depletion last year, FEMA had to move to an “immediate needs” designation – essentially delaying non-emergency projects that could bolster preparation for disasters in the future – before Congress authorized additional money.

“There are large and complex projects, and it can really throw those projects off when you have a delay in payment or reimbursement,” said Berginnis, a former state hazard mitigation officer in Ohio.

“While the delay issue is problematic, we live right now in a time where the need for doing hazard mitigation or resilience far exceeds the available resources, even at the federal level.”

A FEMA spokesperson said the agency continues to work with the Biden administration and Congress to ensure sufficient funding is available.

The agency in January announced a series of reforms, like streamlining applications for assistance, intended to get relief to disaster survivors more quickly.

Immediate assistance post-disaster can be spotty.

McKinney said he eventually got $30,000 worth of help from FEMA after Harvey but added that there appeared to be no logic to how money was doled out in his area.

“Some people only got four or five thousand (dollars) because they had a two-story home and some of us got $30,000,” he said.

As FEMA’s ability to respond to and prepare for disasters becomes more strained, community groups and foundations across the country are stepping up to fill the gaps.

In hurricane-prone Florida, the Miami Foundation set up a revolving resilience fund after the Surfside apartment collapse in 2021. The fund initially started with about $5 million and has since swelled to $8 million.

David Sherfinski, "US hurricane hotspots brace for busy year as FEMA cash dries up," Business recorder. 2024-06-20.
Keywords: Environmental sciences , Environmental challenges , Environmental issues , Heavy rain , McKinney , Texas , NOAA , FEMA , US , 2017

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