Puerto Rico fires 2 more officials over supplies found warehouse

Author: PETER MARTINEZ, AUDREY MCNAMARA/ CBS News
Published: Updated:

Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced fired two more government officials Sunday over the latest controversy involving unused emergency supplies discovered in a warehouse in the coastal city of Ponce. Some of the supplies — including water bottles, cots and baby food — date to when Hurricane Maria struck the island in 2017.

Housing Secretary Fernando Gil and Department of Family Secretary Glorimar Andújar were let go one day after the governor fired Carlos Acevedo, the Puerto Rican commissioner of the National Emergency Management and Disaster Relief Agency.

A Facebook Live video showing the untouched supplies recently went viral, prompting an investigation which led to the firings. Some of the aid has allegedly been sitting in the warehouse since Maria pummeled Puerto Rico as a Category 4 hurricane two years ago. Following the publication of the video, some residents of the island raided the warehouse.

“There have been actions by government officials that have been completely unacceptable,” Vázquez said Sunday. She had ordered an investigation into the warehouse of supplies and nominated Puerto Rican National Guard chief Major General José J. Reyes to replace Acevedo.

Vázquez met earlier Sunday with members of her administration and they were unable to provide information she had requested about other collection and distribution centers, according to The Associated Press. She didn’t elaborate on firing Gil and Andújar, but said she had lost confidence in them.

“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,” Vázquez said in a statement Sunday.

On Sunday, Ponce Mayor María Meléndez expressed her dismay at the situation.

“I spent several days requesting cots and water,” Meléndez said. “They sent me to Cabo Rojo for the cots and to San Juan for the water. If I had known that those supplies were there, I would have demanded that they be taken out immediately.”

When Vázquez was asked about not knowing the supplies were at the warehouse, she replied, “That’s what the head of agencies are for … to inform the governor.”

CBS News interview with Major General José J. Reyes

CBS News correspondent David Begnaud interviewed Reyes, the head of the Puerto Rico national guard, on Sunday. Reyes revealed what’s being done to distribute aid currently stored at warehouses across the island and information about the contracts that were signed. Reyes also addressed the hundreds of thousands of dollars that the U.S. government paid themselves essentially to store that aid in “secret.”

“No citizen has been denied any of the items”

Acevedo said on Saturday that it was “insane” to imply the aid was mishandled.

Acevedo said in a statement that after the earthquake, the warehouse had been inspected by a structural engineer who “recommended emptying it due to the damage suffered after the event.” According to Acevedo, the Fire Department Bureau removed and distributed aid from the warehouse to those affected by the earthquakes.

“There are still pallets of food, water, diapers, and baby formula, cots and awnings in the warehouse. At no time has it been ordered to seize or destroy those items,” reads his statement.

“It is of utmost importance to emphasize that no citizen has been denied any of the items stored at the warehouse,” he said. “At the moment there is no shortage of any of these articles and they are being distributed to the people who need it, this may be corroborated in the shelters and base camps.”

“The citizen who entered the property today, and shared the images on social networks, violated the security perimeter, which in turn, represented a risk for him. For this reason he was instructed to leave the area. Any personnel entering that structure, which is compromised, requires specific security measures to ensure their safety.”

A 4.7 magnitude earthquake hit Puerto Rico on December 28, kicking off a series of seismic events on the island. More than 2,000 tremors have occurred since the original quake, leaving the island’s three million people in fear, and wanting for aid.

Puerto Ricans were waiting to see if President Trump would sign a major disaster declaration to authorize the much needed aid. Nine days after Vázquez submitted the request, the president signed the declaration. One day prior, the Trump administration released $8.2 billion in heavily restricted aid to the island.

Thousands of people are still in shelters, while many others are still sleeping outside.

MORE: Puerto Rico emergency director fired after residents discover warehouse full of Hurricane Maria supplies

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