While Nov. 30 marks the end of a historic hurricane season, FEMA and its partners continue to work diligently in support of disaster survivors recovering from the devastating season. Four hurricanes made landfall: Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate (the first three were classified as major hurricanes, which affected roughly 25.8 million people). Also during this season, nearly two dozen large wildfires burned more than 200,000 acres of land in northern California.
Hurricanes Harvey and Irma marked the first time two Atlantic Category 4 hurricanes made landfall in the Continental United States, in the same season. Hurricane Harvey set a new record for the most rainfall from a U.S. tropical cyclone, with more than 50 inches of rain in some areas. The storm resulted in catastrophic flooding in Texas and western Louisiana. Two weeks later, Hurricane Irma became the strongest Atlantic Ocean hurricane on record. Winds peaked at 185 mph, and Hurricane Irma remained a hurricane for 11 days. Irma was the longest-lived Atlantic hurricane since Ivan in 2004. The public response to Hurricane Irma, as the storm approached, resulted in one of the largest sheltering missions in U.S. history.
Hurricane Maria devastated the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico soon after Hurricane Irma struck their shores. Hurricane Maria was the first Category 4 hurricane to make landfall on the main island of Puerto Rico in 85 years, and the resulting response became the longest sustained air mission of food and water in FEMA history. In addition to these hurricanes, prior to the 2017 season FEMA already had 17 Joint Field Offices working 28 presidentially-declared disasters.
Since Harvey made landfall in Texas on Aug. 25, the President has granted 16 Major Disaster declarations and 14 Emergency Declarations, while FEMA has authorized 25 Fire Management Assistance Grant declarations. Over a span of 25 days, FEMA and our partners deployed tens of thousands of personnel across 270,000 square miles in three different FEMA regions.
So far, more than 4.7 million disaster survivors registered for federal assistance with FEMA – more than all who registered for hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Wilma and Sandy combined. To respond to the historic demand, FEMA expanded its call center capacity by tenfold, and increased the number of home and property damage inspectors fourfold.
“This historic hurricane season should serve as a gut check and an opportunity for citizens, businesses, state, local, tribal and federal officials to re-evaluate how we prepare for and respond to any disaster,” said FEMA Administrator Brock Long. “Response and recovery is dependent upon the whole community to be successful. While we continue to support the recovery from these storms, we must also take the opportunity to become better prepared for future disasters.”
To date, FEMA has placed more than $2 billion in disaster assistance into the hands of disaster survivors to help them recover from these events. As of mid-November, National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) policyholders filed approximately 120,000 claims, resulting in payments totaling more than $6.3 billion.
“State, local, tribal, and territorial governments, along with the residents in the impacted areas, are the true first responders,” said Administrator Long. “FEMA alone cannot deliver assistance to this vast number of survivors. We must hit the re-set button on the culture of preparedness in our country.”
Non-profit organizations provide crucial services to sustain lives in partnership with the rest of the response and recovery infrastructure. The private sector also plays a significant role in disasters, as businesses work to restore critical services and donate their time and resources – in close coordination with emergency management personnel – to help communities rebound in the wake of disasters.
Thousands of members of the federal workforce were deployed to Texas, Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, including 13,892 staff from various offices of the Department of Defense (DoD), including the military services. For the first time, FEMA extended the Department of Homeland Security’s “Surge Capacity Force,” to all federal agencies, deploying over 3,800 non-FEMA federal employees.
FEMA search and rescue teams saved nearly 9,000 lives, in addition to those saved or assisted by DoD, the Coast Guard, state and local partners, first responders, and neighbors helping neighbors.
While the 2017 Hurricane Season has ended, recovering from these devastating hurricanes will take years, and FEMA and our federal partners will continue to support affected governments and survivors as they build back stronger.
For the latest information about FEMA support to response and recovery efforts, see: