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FEMA: What a Relief

With its speedy Sandy response, long-beleaguered FEMA rescues itself
Obama tours the damage in New Jersey
Obama tours the damage in New JerseyPhotograph by Pablo Martinez Monsivals/AP Photo

Compared with the Biblical flooding and wanton destruction along the New Jersey shore and the images of Lower Manhattan plunged into darkness, it isn’t much, but it’s something: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, one of Mitt Romney’s most visible supporters and a politician who’s risen to national prominence by excoriating the excesses and inefficiency of the public sector, can’t stop complimenting the federal government’s response to Hurricane Sandy. In television interview after television interview, the voluble Republican has sung the praises of the Obama administration and, in particular, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “I have to say, the administration, the president himself, and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate have been outstanding,” Christie told ABC’s Good Morning America. “We have a great partnership with them.”

Sandy is the worst natural disaster to hit the U.S. since Hurricane Katrina. Among that 2005 storm’s many casualties was the public’s faith in the federal government to come to the rescue in the face of disaster. FEMA became a punch line. With Sandy, the consensus is that the agency has done its job very well so far—coordinating and supporting the responses of state and local governments and directing federal resources, manpower, and money where they’re most needed. As of Oct. 31, there were 2,276 FEMA personnel deployed along the East Coast. The agency had performed 700 rescues and brought 2.5 million liters of water and 1.5 million meals to the area. In New York and New Jersey, 10,979 people were in FEMA shelters. If Katrina showed how far FEMA had fallen, Sandy has shown how far it’s come since then and suggests Washington can, in fact, learn from its mistakes.