As Irma barrels into Florida, Washington takes a 1-2 punch

Storms, fires and other disasters are hitting with more frequency and fury, forcing the federal government to cope with overlapping catastrophes.

More than a decade of budget cutting and a rash of government job vacancies are taxing Washington’s ability to cope with a one-two punch of epic storms…

Harvey and Irma could be a breaking point. At $556 billion, the Houston metropolitan area’s economy is bigger than Sweden’s. New Jersey could easily fit inside the region’s sprawling footprint, where Harvey dumped 34 trillion gallons of water, as much as the three costliest floods in Texas history combined. The Harvey response alone eventually could double the $136 billion in government aid spent after Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans…

The disasters are arriving with greater frequency. Counting Harvey, the U.S. this year has experienced 10 weather-related events each costing $1 billion or more. The country averaged fewer than six big-dollar storms, flood, fires and freezes a year between 1980 and 2016, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Between 2012 and 2016, however, weather catastrophes occurred almost twice as often.

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