As relief efforts in Texas gear up and the task of rebuilding homes is under way in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, another monster storm could soon take aim at the U.S., which could severely challenge emergency relief efforts nationwide.
Irma, a Category 5 hurricane with winds reaching 185 miles per hour, dwarfs the size and scope of Hurricane Harvey, which last week dropped more than 50 inches of rain on Houston, killed more than 60 people and ravaged the Gulf Coast. Forecasters say Irma could strike Florida by the weekend, creating a daunting scenario in which the U.S. faces the real possibility of managing two major coastal catastrophes simultaneously.
The financial cost of such a massive effort is almost incalculable and would dramatically stretch the resources of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Coast Guard, Red Cross and a slew of other relief organizations. President Donald Trump has asked Congress to allocate $7.8 billion for Harvey relief, and Gov. Greg Abbott says Texas could need as much as $125 billion.
Relief officials said they’re doing all they can to prepare and to keep from exhausting their volunteers and supplies too soon. “There is a lot happening and it is overwhelming,” said Alicia Anger of the Alabama region of the American Red Cross. “But we are the Red Cross and this is what we do.”
An official with Americares, a Connecticut-based disaster relief organization, expressed similar anxiety over the looming double whammy. “Not in a very long time have we had to face two such dangerous hurricanes at the same time,” said Garrett Ingoglia, the nonprofit’s vice president of emergency response.
While more than 31,000 federal employees – including more than 3,000 FEMA staff – continue working to support Harvey recovery efforts, the nation’s chief emergency agency is activating field operations from the southeastern U.S. up the East Coast along Hurricane Irma’s expected path. Already, FEMA has deployed 124 people to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, where the storm is expected to first hit.
Helicopters from the Coast Guard flown to Houston to help search and rescue missions left Texas over the long weekend, allowing pilots and staff to return home and rest, maintain their aircraft and “wait for Irma,” said John Miller, chief petty officer for the guard.
Abbott said Tuesday he is willing to send any assistance Texas can spare to Florida should Irma wallop the Sunshine State, returning the favor after various Florida…