A man stands in front of his wrecked home in Utuado, Puerto Rico, on 19 December 2017. Photo: Mario Tama / Getty Images

By Bill Weir; editing by Rachel Clarke
20 December 2017

(CNN) – "We need help."

I've heard those three words repeated in the mountains of Puerto Rico, amid the wreckage of Big Pine Key and from the mayor who thinks his Texas town may die.

I've heard them spat in anger and mumbled in resignation and from California, you can hear them choked through smoke and fear in real time as 2017 explodes the ranks of America's fastest growing demographic: Disaster survivor.

Nearly 5 million Americans have registered for federal aid since Labor Day; more victims than Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma and Superstorm Sandy combined.

But the man in charge of answering all those pleas is sounding his own cry for help. FEMA Administrator Brock Long, chosen by Donald Trump to be the nation's top emergency manager, wants everyone to understand three fundamental truths:

  1. FEMA is broke.
  2. The system is broken.
  3. If this is the new normal, Americans can't rely on a federal cavalry when disaster strikes. They will have to take care of themselves.

"I haven't even been here for six months yet, and what I hope to do is inform Americans about how complex this mission is," Long says. "I didn't come up here to do status quo, I'm ready to change the face of emergency management."

But out in the disaster zones, that's a tough sell.

"If you could talk to the head of FEMA, what would you tell him?" I ask Samantha McCrary, one of the millions of summer of '17 survivors and the creator of a homemade relief camp in Rockport, Texas.

"I'd tell him to pull his head out of his ass."

Long winces when I play him the clip. [more]

Hellish summer of hurricanes smashes FEMA

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