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. Now their discovery has triggered a political firestorm.
On Sunday, Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez fired two more officials in the most recent development since anger broke out over a viral video showing unused emergency supplies – allegedly left-over aid from Hurricane Maria – sitting in a warehouse in the southern coastal city of Ponce.
“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,” the governor’s initial statement said.
In Ponce, thousands remain in shelters since a 6.4 magnitude quake struck the island two weeks ago.
Housing Secretary Fernando Gil and Department of Family Secretary Glorimar Andújar were dismissed Sunday. The previous day, Gov. Vázquez had fired Carlos Acevedo, director of Puerto Rico’s Office of Emergency Management, hours after a Facebook video showed residents breaking into the warehouse to distribute supplies.
The video, posted live by blogger Lorenzo Delgado, 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.
The firings come amid concerns over Puerto Rico’s credibility in Washington. The U.S. had temporarily retained some federal funds for Maria relief amid concerns of corruption and mismanagement. Last week, the Trump administration lifted on monthlong hold on $8.2 billion in congressionally approved disaster aid funding to help with earthquake relief efforts, Politico reported.
On Thursday, President Trump declared a major disaster in Puerto Rico, allocating federal funding for repairs, temporary housing and low-cost loans "to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster," the White House said.
Vázquez has ordered an investigation into the discovery of the supplies. In a press conference Sunday, she said no citizens will be prosecuted for breaking into the warehouse in order to obtain the relief. She added that she chose to also fire Gil and Andújar after officials were unable to provide further information she requested about other collection and distribution centers in meetings with leaders of her administration that morning.
Acevedo meanwhile has denied he mishandled the emergency supplies, saying in a statement that about 600 pallets of water were distributed when Hurricane Dorian, Hurricane Karen and drought all affected the island last year.
He added that the warehouse supplies were expired and no one had ordered for them to be removed or destroyed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.