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Hurricane Irma

FEMA is expected to run out of money this week, just as Hurricane Irma roars towards Florida

Relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Harvey have been costing the US disaster agency more than US$9million per hour since last week

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 September, 2017, 1:54pm
UPDATED : Friday, 08 September, 2017, 3:27pm

With Texas still reeling from Hurricane Harvey and another storm barreling toward Florida, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is expected to run out of money by Friday, according to a Senate aide, putting pressure on Congress to provide more funding this week.

As of 10am Tuesday morning, FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund, which pays for the agency’s disaster response and recovery activity, had just US$1.01 billion on hand. And of that, just US$541 million was “immediately available” for response and recovery efforts related to Hurricane Harvey, according to a spokeswoman for FEMA who asked not to be identified by name.

The US$1.01 billion in the fund Tuesday morning is less than half of the US$2.14 billion that was there at 9am last Thursday morning - a spend rate of US$9.3 million every hour, or about US$155,000 a minute.

The agency would be out of funds just as Irma, a category 5 monster hurricane, might start thrashing the coast of Florida.

“If it’s down to US$1 billion or less, then I would say there’s a great concern,” said Elizabeth Zimmerman, who until January was FEMA’s associate administrator for the office of response and recovery. “Congress needs to take action very quickly.”

President Donald Trump’s administration has asked Congress for an injection of almost US$8 billion in additional funds. In the meantime, FEMA has restricted spending to what it calls “immediate needs” - what it calls “lifesaving, life-sustaining response efforts” for Harvey and Irma. Zimmerman said the agency can also start pulling money from other projects.

But without more money, Zimmerman said, the agency will be hard-pressed to deal with what’s coming. “We’re not even at peak hurricane season,” she said.

Irma comes after Hurricane Harvey, which smashed ashore in Texas August 25 causing widespread damage, power outages and flooding.

The new storm is of “unprecedented intensity” in the Atlantic, meteorologists said Wednesday, as they advised residents of tiny Caribbean islands to take shelter as the massive storm approached.

The hurricane is set to strike the popular holiday destinations of Saint Martin and Saint-Barthelemy, with the French weather service warning of 12-metre swells and “extremely violent floods along the shore”.

“Irma is a hurricane of unprecedented intensity in the Atlantic,” said Meteo France, warning residents of the islands to stay indoors.

Meteo France said there would be a “major submersion of the low-lying parts of the coast”, with the towns of Marigot and Grand Case on the Franco-Dutch island of Saint-Martin and Gustavia in French Saint-Barthelemy to “be particularly impacted”.

The storm is expected to bring torrential rains, with 200-400 millimetres forecast.

Irma was continuing to strengthen, with gusts reaching 360 kilometres per hour near the northern Lesser Antilles.