Puerto Rico’s governor fired two officials after a warehouse filled with emergency Hurricane Maria supplies was discovered and they could not say if there are more.
Governor Wanda Vázquez announced that Housing Secretary Fernando Gil and Department of Family Secretary Glorimar Andújar were formally terminated from their positions on Sunday following the fallout of the bombshell discovery.
Gil and Andújar’s exits come one day after Vasquez fired Carlos Acevedo, director of the US territory’s emergency management agency.
The string of dismissals follows the release of a Facebook video showing furious people breaking into a warehouse stocked with water, toiletries and supplies meant for victims of the 2017 Hurricane Maria.
Vasquez said: ‘There have been actions by government officials that have been completely unacceptable.’
‘They weren’t able to personally tell me specifically where these centers were located, what they contained and whether an inventory was completed.’
Vasquez made the decision after meeting with her administration leaders that found officials could not provide information about other supplies collections and distribution centers.
The governor did not disclose why Gil and Andújar’s were singled out, just that she lost confidence in their abilities.
In addition to the government shakeup, Vasquez is concerned that the warehouse discovery could undermine Puerto Rico’s credibility with the Trump administration in Washington.
This week, President Donald Trump released a hold on $8billion in hurricane funds after pressure from Democrats, including Nancy Pelosi, who ordered officials to ‘cease and desist that illegal activity.’
The funds were previously retained amid worries of corruption and mismanagement.
Trump claimed in May that Congress gave Puerto Rico $91billion for Hurricanes Irma and Maria disaster relief funds, saying that it was the largest appointment of any state in history.
In the past, Trump has criticized Puerto Rico’s leadership following the 2017 hurricane, saying: ‘So many wonderful people, but with such bad Island leadership and with so much money wasted.
The president has yet to address the new revelations, but other Puerto Rico officials have expressed outrage as they deal with an earthquake crisis that killed one person.
On January 7, a 6.4 magnitude quake rocked the commonwealth’s southern region, causing extensive damage and left more than 7,000 people in shelters as aftershocks continue.
Ponce Mayor María Meléndez said: ‘I spent several days requesting cots and water. They sent me to Cabo Rojo for the cots and to San Juan for the water. If I had known that those supplies were there, I would have demanded that they be taken out immediately.’
She continued to berate the government’s mishandling of Hurricane Maria relief on Twitter.
Meléndez said: ‘Our people suffered greatly bc of how Hurricane María was managed. We cannot allow history to repeat itself. The City of Ponce and its Government had NO knowledge of the findings made in this warehouse near the Guancha de Ponce.’
‘This is outrageous,’ she said. ‘Everyone knows what us mayors went through after Hurricane Maria to try and get help to our cities and how we’ve worked these weeks to provide basic supplies to people affected by earthquakes. Those involved owe us an explanation.’
When asked how it was possibly she was unaware of the warehouse, Vasquez shouldered blame onto the fired employees.
‘That´s what the head of agencies are for … to inform the governor,’ she said.
Anger erupted across Puerto Rico on Saturday after Lorenzo Delgado, an online blogger, posted a video of the warehouse stocked to the brim with water bottles, cots, baby food and other basic supplies that had been untouched for nearly three years.
Delgado said he received a tip about the warehouse, but did not specify when.
A group of enraged citizens broke into the warehouse and began distributing the goods to those affected by the recent quakes.
Vasquez said the matter is currently under investigation and acknowledged the horrific implications of finding a trove of unknown aid supplies.
‘There are thousands of people who have made sacrifices to help those in the south, and it is unforgivable that resources were kept in the warehouse,’ the governor said.
Officials have two days to investigate why the supplies were left behind.
Puerto Rico’s secretary of state, Elmer Román, told reporters that Acevedo had not told him about the contents of the warehouse.
Inés Rivera, spokeswoman for the city of Ponce, told The Associated Press that the warehouse is owned by Puerto Rico´s Company of Commerce and Export. Officials with the company could not be reached for comment.
The information upset many in Puerto Rico already angry over the government’s botched response to Hurricane Maria, with similar incidents of supplies going unused being uncovered months later.
Maria destroyed thousands of buildings and knocked out the electricity grid for 1.5 million people, which took 11 months to restore. As a result of the earthquake and the aftermath, it’s believed 3,000 people died.
Many people didn’t have access to clean water.
In August 2019, abandoned supplies were located in an elections office. Rats had torn through the food and medicine that could have saved lives.
Then in September 2019, a year after the hurricane, hundreds of pallets of water were found on an airstrip. The water had gone bad after months abandoned in the sun.
The outrage led it Governor Ricardo Rossello resigning in July 2019.