Puerto Rico's emergency services director fired after warehouse with Hurricane Maria supplies found

Posted at 5:28 AM, Jan 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-20 05:28:43-05

Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vazquez dismissed the island's director of emergency management after a warehouse was discovered with supplies dating back to Hurricane Maria.

Video published Saturday showed a warehouse in the southwestern city of Ponce filled with supplies, including thousands of cases of water, believed to have been from when the hurricane struck the island in 2017.

Hurricane Maria left 2,975 people dead and caused major problems in Puerto Rico for months, including power outages and shortages of food, water and medicine.

"There are thousands of people who have made sacrifices to bring help to the south, and it is unforgivable that resources have been kept in a warehouse," Vazquez said in a statement.

The governor gave officials 48 hours to investigate why the supplies never were delivered to those who needed them.

On Sunday, Vazquez held a fiery press conference where she called for the resignation of two government agency secretaries as well. amid a controversy surrounding stocked warehouses filled with supplies that were supposed to reach those in need.

"In the last days there have been actions by members of the government that are not acceptable. … I will not permit this type of conduct in my government," Vazquez said.

The governor says that she would refer any findings from the investigation to the relevant authorities for prosecution.

She called for the resignations of Family Affairs Secretary Glorimar Andújar and Housing Secretary Fernando Gil after they were unable to provide information she requested on their agencies’ distribution centers.

Vazquez nominated the head of the Puerto Rican National Guard, Brig. Gen. Victor S. Perez, to lead the Office of Emergency Management after Carlos Acevedo's dismissal.

Acevedo, before his firing, said in a statement: "It is important to emphasize that no citizen has been denied any of the items found at this place."

The warehouse and its contents were discovered when the building was inspected after an earthquake hit Puerto Rico last week, Acevedo said.

Water, food, diapers, baby formula, cots and tarps had been stored there, according to his statement.

Vazquez said Sunday that all the Ponce warehouse supplies that are not expired will be distributed to the towns that were the hardest hit by the quakes.

Acevedo said at one point there had been 600 pallets of water, which were distributed to the public when Hurricane Dorian and Hurricane Karen threatened Puerto Rico, but there were about 80 left. The investigation will examine inventory at that warehouse and potentially any others.

The person who took the video of inside the warehouse "violated the security perimeter," he added.

Ponce Mayor Mayita Meléndez wrote on Twitter that the city and its government "had NO knowledge of the findings made in this warehouse near the Guancha de Ponce." Meléndez said the warehouses are not managed by the city.

"Our people suffered greatly bc (sic) of how Hurricane María was managed," she wrote. "We cannot allow history to repeat itself."