The Federal Emergency Management Agency inexplicably removed information from its website concerning the numbers of people in Puerto Rico who still lack access to drinking water and electricity in the wake of Hurricane Maria, The Washington Post reported Thursday.
On Friday, FEMA added the information back to the page, denying it was ever made inaccessible.
The hurricane, which hit Puerto Rico on September 20, caused massive devastation, wiping out the island’s power grid, communication systems, much of its infrastructure, and private property.
On Thursday, statistics showing that about half of Puerto Rico’s residents lacked access to drinking water and 95% of the island was without power were removed from a FEMA web page containing information related to the storm.
FEMA spokesman William Booher told the Post that both numbers continue to be reported on Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s website, although the site is in Spanish.
“Our mission is to support the governor and his response priorities through the unified command structure to help Puerto Ricans recover and return to routines,” Booher told the Post. “Information on the stats you are specifically looking for are readily available” on the governor’s site and through daily news briefings.
But Booher did not explain why the numbers were removed from the FEMA page, which details other statistics concerning the recovery in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
On Friday afternoon, FEMA restored the information to the site “to avoid any further confusion.”
“Reports suggesting an effort to ‘remove’ any data points are simply erroneous,” FEMA spokesperson Eileen Lainez said in a statement.
The page includes statistics on the percentage of hospitals that have been reopened, the miles of road that have been cleared, the thousands of federal workers engaged in the response, and the millions of meals that have been distributed.
While the administration’s response to the recent hurricanes in Texas and Florida received praise, the president has received widespread criticism for what many say is a lackluster response effort to a far more severe humanitarian disaster on the US island territory.
President Donald Trump’s public comments about the crisis in Puerto Rico have swung from saying the island is in “deep trouble,” lamenting its existing debt and weak infrastructure, to praising the federal and local response efforts, painting a rosy picture of recovery.
Trump’s first public response to the devastation in the US territory came five days after Hurricane Maria hit, in a series of tweets in which he focused on Puerto Rico’s weak infrastructure and economy.
Days later, he attacked the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz, after she criticized the inefficiency of the federal government’s relief efforts and asked Trump to send more help more quickly.
“Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help,” he tweeted on Saturday. “They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort. 10,000 Federal workers now on Island doing a fantastic job.”
Trump visited the island on Tuesday and praised the governor, local aid efforts, and the federal response.