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FEMA Says It’s Ready for Hurricane Florence, Defends 2017 Response

Ari Natter
An American flag flies above a pile of flood damaged debris stripped from inside a house that was flooded by Hurricane Harvey in Spring, Texas, U.S.

The Trump administration was roundly criticized for its performance during last year’s record year of disasters which saw Hurricane Harvey flood Texas and left thousands dead and in the dark in Puerto Rico.

This time -- as Hurricane Florence and a series of other storms barrel toward the U.S. -- the Department of Homeland Security division charged with responding to disasters says it’s prepared even as the agency defends its 2017 response.

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"I’m confident the response in 2017 was good and I’m confident this response will be good," Federal Emergency Management Agency Associate Administrator Jeff Byard told reporters during a briefing Tuesday.

In a report issued earlier this month, the government’s chief watchdog slammed the agency as being overwhelmed by a series of devastating hurricanes and other disasters, saying the agency failed to adequately house disaster victims, distribute financial assistance in a timely fashion or do enough to prevent fraud. In Puerto Rico, where the estimated death toll from Hurricane Maria has ranged as high as 5,000, the Government Accountability Office said the agency’s poor response was compounded by a failure to deploy enough qualified staff.

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Florence is forecast to hit the Carolinas as a Category 4 hurricane later this week, one of the strongest storms to strike the area in nearly 30 years.

“This is not going to be a storm we recover from in days,” Byard said at FEMA’s headquarters in Washington. “We are planning for devastation.”

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