Sat | Oct 24, 2020

Discovery of unused disaster supplies stirs anger

Published:Monday | January 20, 2020 | 12:00 AM
A chihuahua dog sleeps on a cot in a tent city for hundreds of people displaced by earthquakes in Guanica, Puerto Rico, last Tuesday. A 6.4-magnitude quake that toppled or damaged hundreds of homes in south western Puerto Rico is raising concerns about where displaced families will live, while the island still struggles to rebuild from Hurricane Maria two years ago.

SAN JUAN (AP):

People in a southern Puerto Rico city discovered a warehouse filled with water, cots and other unused emergency supplies, then set off a social media uproar on Saturday when they broke in to retrieve goods as the area struggles to recover from a strong earthquake.

With anger spreading in the US territory after video of the event in Ponce appeared on Facebook, Governor Wanda Vázquez quickly fired the director of the island’s emergency management agency.

The governor said she had ordered an investigation after learning the emergency supplies had been piled, in the warehouse since Hurricane Maria battered Puerto Rico in September 2017.

Vázquez said inaction by the fired official, Carlos Acevedo, was unacceptable.

“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’s Secretary of State, Elmer Román, told reporters that Acevedo had not told him about the contents of the warehouse.

News of the warehouse spread after online blogger Lorenzo Delgado relayed live video on Facebook of people breaking into the building. The scene became chaotic at times as people pushed their way in and began distributing water, baby food and other goods to those affected by the earthquake.

Delgado later told reporters that he had received a tip about the warehouse, but gave no specifics on when.

The mayor of Ponce, María Meléndez, said she had not known about the warehouse and its contents.

OUTRAGEOUS

“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.”

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.