Puerto Rico’s governor sacked two more officials Sunday after residents of the town of Ponce, wracked by a pair of natural disasters within just over a year of each other, discovered a warehouse full of bottled water, baby diapers, non-perishable food, and other aid items delivered in the wake of Hurricane Maria and never distributed.
“The pallets of bedding, food and medical supplies sat wrapped in plastic and unused in a warehouse for more than two years while Puerto Ricans suffered through the aftermath of a devastating hurricane and, recently, an earthquake,” Fox News reported Monday. “Now their discovery has triggered a political firestorm.”
Over the weekend, video of the discovery went viral, showing residents of Ponce breaking into the warehouse, discovering pallets upon pallets of emergency supplies, and then storming the building to distribute the much-needed aid. Local authorities revealed that the warehouse was full of supplies meant for residents of Ponce, delivered in late 2017, after Ponce was struck by Hurricane Maria.
“The video, posted live by blogger Lorenzo Delgado,” Fox News continued, “shows a warehouse filled with water bottles, cots, baby food and other basic supplies that had apparently been sitting there since Hurricane Maria battered the U.S. territory in September 2017. A group of people is then seen breaking in and distributing the supplies.”
It’s not clear why the supplies were never distributed, but residents suspect corruption.
Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez told reporters, over the weekend, that she is “shocked” by the development: “There are thousands of people who made sacrifices to bring aid to the south and it’s unforgivable that resources have been kept in a warehouse.”
She immediately fired the island’s director of emergency management, Carlos Acevedo and, later Sunday, “fired the heads of Puerto Rico’s housing and family departments, Housing Secretary Fernando Gil and Department of Family Secretary Glorimar Andújar,” per the New York Post.
Acevedo seemed to indicate, in statements, that he knew about the supplies, but that he believed them to be “expired.” Several hundred pallets of water, he claimed, were distributed after Hurricane Dorian and Hurricane Karen hit the island, and during a summer drought. His excuses weren’t satisfactory, however, to Puerto Ricans, who have suffered food, water, and electricity shortages since Hurricane Maria in 2017.
Puerto Rican Secretary of State Elmer Roman even admitted, to Univision, that there are probably many more warehouses full of aid, just waiting to be distributed. He said government officials are charged with assessing and identifying possible aid caches over the next two days, and distributing any unused — but still usable — supplies.
“The instructions are clear: All of the supplies that are available will be distributed,” he said.
President Donald Trump was heavily criticized for his “limited” response to the natural disaster, but the White House insisted, at the time, that thousands of aid workers and millions of pounds of supplies had been delivered to the island nation. The problem, the administration contended, lied with the Puerto Rican government, so weighed down by corruption that it could not manage aid effectively.
The FBI and several other law enforcement agencies have since initiated investigations into Puerto Rican’s government, seeking information on possible bribery and corruption at the highest levels.