The Slatest

Puerto Rico Emergency Manager Fired Amid Outrage Over Warehouse Filled With Unused Aid

A woman carries boxes of baby diapers from warehouse filled with supplies, including thousands of cases of water, believed to have been from when Hurricane Maria struck the island in 2017 in Ponce, Puerto Rico on January 18, 2020.
A woman carries boxes of baby diapers from warehouse filled with supplies, including thousands of cases of water, believed to have been from when Hurricane Maria struck the island in 2017 in Ponce, Puerto Rico on January 18, 2020. RICARDO ARDUENGO/Getty Images

Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez fired the director of the island’s emergency management agency shortly after chaos broke out in a southern city when residents discovered a warehouse filled with unused aid. The aid that included water, cots, baby formula, and diapers, among others, is thought to be from when Hurricane Maria struck the island in 2017.

The warehouse was found by residents in the city of Ponce, which was one of the worst affected by the recent earthquake that hit the island. Video of residents breaking into the warehouse and distributing the aid quickly went viral on social media as the governor vowed an investigation. “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. Puerto Rico has been struck by a series of earthquakes since December 28 that have forced thousands of people in the southern end of the island to leave their homes.

María Meléndez, the mayor of Ponce, said she had no idea that there was a warehouse filled with unused aid in the city. “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.” Carlos Acevedo, the director of Puerto Rico’s Office of Emergency Management who was fired Saturday, denied any wrongdoing and said much of the aid had expired. Yet the unused aid raised the ire of Puerto Rico residents as it appeared to be the latest in a long line of examples of how the local government has botched the response to the recent disasters that have struck the island.

Federal aid, meanwhile, has been slow to arrive as well. The Washington Post breaks down the numbers:

Congress has since approved a total of $44 billion for recovery from Maria between the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. About $8 billion of that money was used for immediate emergency recovery via agencies such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Small Business Administration and U.S. Health and Human Services medical brigades in the storm’s aftermath.

Of the remaining $36 billion, $16 billion is slated for the island via FEMA, which has obligated about $7 billion for recovery and mitigation projects so far. HUD has about $20 billion set aside for Puerto Rico, but until this month, the island’s residents have had access to just $1.5 billion of it.