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World & Nation

Discovery of unused disaster supplies angers Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico earthquake housing
Residents of Guayanilla, Puerto Rico, in a makeshift shelter after the recent magnitude 6.4 earthquake, which has displaced many when the island is still recovering from Hurricane Maria in 2017.
(Carlos Giusti / Associated Press)

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 Saturday when they broke in to retrieve goods as the area struggles to recover from a strong earthquake.

With anger spreading in the U.S. territory after video of the event in Ponce appeared on Facebook, Gov. 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.

The deployment of 35 specialists came in response to a request from the Puerto Rican government to the California Governor’s Office after the quakes.
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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.

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Delgado later told reporters that he had received a tip about the warehouse, but did not say when.

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

“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 Trade and Export Company. 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 and being uncovered months later.

Ponce is one of several cities in the island’s southern region hit by the recent 6.4 magnitude earthquake that killed one person and caused damage estimated to be more than $200 million. More than 7,000 people remain in shelters since the quake.

The governor said she has sent the Puerto Rican Senate her nomination of José Reyes, who oversees the National Guard in Puerto Rico, to be the new commissioner for the State Bureau for Emergency Management and Disaster Management.


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