Tuesday, October 24, 2017
Outside Rachel Roberts's house, a skeleton sits on a chair next to the driveway, a skeleton child on its lap, an empty cup in its hand and a sign at its feet that reads "Waiting on FEMA."
It is a Halloween reminder that, for many, getting help to recover from Hurricane Harvey remains a long, uncertain journey.
"It's very frustrating," said Ms. Roberts, 44, who put together the display after waiting three weeks for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to send someone to look at her flood-damaged home in southwest Houston. "I think it's beautiful how much we've all come together, and that's wonderful, but I think there's a lot of mess-ups, too."
Outside the White House this month, President Trump boasted about the federal relief efforts. "In Texas and in Florida, we get an A-plus," he said. FEMA officials say that they are successfully dealing with enormous challenges posed by an onslaught of closely spaced disasters, unlike anything the agency has seen in years. But on the ground, flooded residents and local officials have a far more critical view.
According to interviews with dozens of storm victims, one of the busiest hurricane seasons in years has overwhelmed federal disaster officials. As a result, the government's response in the two biggest affected states -- Texas and Florida -- has been scattershot: effective in dealing with immediate needs, but unreliable and at times inadequate in handling the aftermath, as thousands of people face unusually long delays in getting basic disaster assistance.
FEMA has taken weeks to inspect damaged homes and apartments, delaying flood victims' attempts to rebuild their lives and properties. People who call the agency's help line at 1-800-621-FEMA have waited on hold for two, three or four hours before they even speak to a FEMA representative.
Nearly two months after Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas on Aug. 25, and six weeks after Hurricane Irma hit Florida on Sept. 10, residents are still waiting for FEMA payments, still fuming after the agency denied their applications for assistance and still trying to resolve glitches and disputes that have slowed and complicated their ability to receive federal aid.
Brian and Monica Smith, whose home in the northern Houston suburb of Kingwood had two feet of water inside after Harvey, said they had received more help from their church, their neighbors and their relatives than from FEMA. A $500 payment from FEMA to help them with their immediate needs was delayed by three weeks. And they waited 34 days for the agency to inspect the damage to their home, pushing back repairs.
"You feel abandoned," Mr. Smith, 42, said. "You feel like it came and went, and everybody's focused on the storm in Florida and now in Puerto Rico.''
Ron and Rita Perreault, a retired couple whose South Florida mobile home was damaged by the flooded Imperial River, call FEMA twice a day to check on the status of their application and inspection. Mrs. Perreault said she had spent so many hours on the phone on hold that she learned, as other callers have, to put the phone on speaker and go about her day.
"I thought I was going to get brain cancer," Mrs. Perreault said. "They give you the runaround."
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