Hurricane Harvey stretches FEMA spending to the brink— and now Irma is arriving

The financial toll of one of the most expensive storms to ever hit the U.S. is still being calculated, even as one with the potential to be just as costly is bearing down on the Florida coast.

Half a million people have been ordered to evacuate area along storm's most likely path

Gas stations are running out of fuel in Florida, making it harder for people to leave because of gridlocked highways. (Jayme Gershen/Bloomberg)

The financial toll of one of the most expensive storms to ever hit the U.S. is still being calculated, even as one with the potential to be just as costly is bearing down on the Florida coast.

Reconstruction efforts are underway in Texas to clean up after Hurricane Harvey flooded Houston and other areas in the state's southeast.

The price tag grows with each passing day, but Gov. Greg Abbott estimates the final tally will come in between $150 billion and $180 billion US, which would make it the most expensive hurricane in American history.

Governments of all stripes spent $110 billion after Katrina in 2005, but that total doesn't include losses by insurance companies and private citizens

The U.S. Senate passed a bill Thursday for an initial $15 billion US infusion of federal money into relief efforts, money that's earmarked to replenish Federal Emergency Management Agency reserves that are at record lows.

"FEMA will be out of money in just two or three days if we don't pass this," Texas Republican Congressionman Blake Farenthold said when the House of Representatives passed its version of the same bill.

"This initial down payment passed by Congress will go a long way in helping victims of the storm rebuild their lives and their communities," Abott said in a statement.

That money will barely be enough to make a drop in the bucket of Harvey's full cost, but is meant as an injection of cash to the relief agency as it readies for a storm that has the potential to do to Florida what Harvey did to Texas.

Drivers face hours-long lineups to fill tanks before heading up coast 0:37

"Today, I was informed by Administrator Long that FEMA has less than two days of emergency funds remaining," Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said.

"Given that Texas continues to recover from the catastrophic effects of Hurricane Harvey and that the state of Florida is facing the most powerful Atlantic storm ever recorded, I have no choice but to support this measure."

Hurricane Irma was bearing down on the U.S. mainland Friday. Officials were scrambling to evacuate people from communities and prepare what they can, even as the damage from the last megastorm has yet to be paid.

Gas shortages in Florida

Meanwhile, people in southern Florida who are fleeing the area ahead of Hurricane Irma are experiencing other obstacles in their attempt to avoid the anticipated big storm — gas shortages and gridlock.

More than half a million people have been ordered to evacuate as the Category 5 hurricane tracks toward the state, a volume that has turned normally simple trips into tests of will.

Carmen Pardo and her six-year-old daughter, Valeria, drove around Miami for seven hours, gas station to gas station, frantically searching for somewhere to fill up the tank. They found nothing.

"She was saying, 'Mommy I'm so tired, I can't do this anymore,'" she said Thursday. "It was craziness."

Pardo booked the only flight she could find leaving the city, to Orlando, where she reserved two seats on a bus bound for Tallahassee on Friday.

"It's the beginning of an adventure," she said.

State police are escorting fuel resupply trucks attempting to reach stations that have run out of fuel, in order to help drivers get back on the road.

According to gasoline price-monitoring website, fuel shortages are becoming common, especially in the following cities:

  • West Palm Beach, where 49 per cent of gas stations were out of fuel as of 8 a.m. Friday.
  • Miami/Fort Lauderdale, where 47 per cent were out of fuel.
  • Gainesville, where 60 per cent of stations were out of fuel.
  • Tampa/St. Petersburg, where 40 per cent were out of fuel.
  • Orlando, where 36 per cent were out of fuel.
  • Jacksonville, where 29 per cent were out of fuel.
  • Tallahassee, where 24 per cent were out of fuel.

With files from The Associated Press


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