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Why states took so long to dispatch disaster aid to Puerto Rico

Christopher Flavelle and Jonathan Levin, Bloomberg News on

Published in Weather News

New Jersey sent a search-and-rescue team to Texas two days after Harvey made landfall through an appeal outside of the EMAC system. Two days before Irma struck the Florida Keys, New Jersey sent 134 National Guard soldiers to the state. Yet it took New Jersey nine days after Maria before it sent personnel to Puerto Rico through EMAC.

Massachusetts announced assistance for Florida through the interstate compact on the same day that Irma hit, dispatching emergency and environmental staff, as well as a nine-person nursing team. By comparison, it took nine days before the state announced its first assistance for Puerto Rico through that compact.

When asked about the discrepancy, each state had the same response: They can't send what Puerto Rico hasn't asked for.

During the week before Irma made landfall and the two weeks afterward, Florida made 115 specific requests for EMAC assistance, according to the National Emergency Management Association. Texas made 90 such requests in the corresponding period around Harvey.

Puerto Rico has made 49 requests so far, two weeks after the storm hit the island.

"We cannot deploy personnel, equipment or other aid without a formal request from the impacted state," Jeff Caldwell, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, said in an email. "We respect the EMAC process and will not self-deploy."

New Jersey deployed when the exact expertise and resources were identified and requested through EMAC and FEMA, said Brian Murray, press secretary to Governor Chris Christie.

The island has yet to formally request help from Florida, according to Alberto Moscoso, a spokesman for the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

On Oct. 1, Gov. Bruce Rauner of Illinois sent Rossello a letter urging him to ask for more help. "We are all deeply concerned about your safety and welfare," Rauner wrote. "Nearly 550 Illinois National Guardsmen are on alert for deployment if you determine they are needed and request our help through EMAC."

One state was quick to move.

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