According to multiple media reports, millions of bottles of water — earmarked for relief efforts after Hurricane Maria — have been left to spoil on a tarmac in Puerto Rico by federal officials, who cited “excess” supplies as the reason for the action.
“I can not assure you that all the water is good. Some spoiled... We had provided [water] to every volunteer agency that had a warehouse, every entity … a lot of municipalities had excess water,” Justo Hernandez, operational coordination division director for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), recounted in a conference Thursday.
Contrastingly, local Puerto Rican General Services Administration requested the bottles of water from FEMA and began giving them out in May. The local agency managed to hand out about 700 pallets before receiving complaints that the water smelled and tasted foul.
Hernandez claims some of the water is drinkable, adding that an investigation has been launched into who and how the water was accessed after being label “excessive," as well as possible methods to dispose of the remaining bottles of water.
The water had originally been moved in January from storage containers to the runway at the José Aponte de la Torre Airport in Ceiba, Marty Bahamonde, director of disaster operations for FEMA’s Office of External Affairs, confirmed to CBS News. Over 10 million bottles of the liquid were moved to the airport to cut overhead costs.
“FEMA put that water out on that airstrip for the purpose of getting it out of containers, so that there would be no cost to us and no cost to the taxpayer,” Hernandez said. “In hindsight, it saved us tens of millions of dollars.” The water was being stored in 1,100 containers on the island at a cost of about $300,000 a day, Bahamonde said.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration transferred nearly US$10 million away from the Federal Emergency Management Agency earlier this year to fund immigrant detention and deportation efforts, a document released Tuesday by Sen. Jeff Merkley revealed.
Department of Homeland Security’s Tyler Houlton denied the claim, saying Merkley’s accusation was a “sorry attempt to push a false agenda at a time when the administration is focused on assisting millions on the East Coast facing a catastrophic disaster.”
But, the document detailed that over US$2.3 million from a total of about US$9.8 million was, in fact, diverted from FEMA’s “response and recovery” budget, a HuffPost report disclosed.
FEMA has admitted that there are close to 20,000 pallets of drinking water at the location, which could contain as many as 12 million bottles, a New York Post report said.
The agency said that distribution of the water was consciously halted, because “commerce was coming back” to the island of Puerto Rico and officials “didn’t want to injure the economy more than it already was.”
The water news broke on the same day Trump declared that the administration’s response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico was “an incredible, unsung success.”
Trump also misrepresented the number of people who reportedly died as a result of Hurricane Maria, after several studies found that the death toll following the devastating storm is near 3,000. The governor of the island nation has denounced the U.S. president’s remarks.