$300,000 was being paid PER DAY to store pallets of bottled water instead of giving it out after Maria, but later it was deemed stale and thus waste? This is another example of the failed response in Puerto Rico. 20,000 pallets of water, which is over 10 million bottles, arrived in the fall of 2017 after Hurricane Maria. It was not until May 2018, 8 months after Hurricane Maria, that it first began to be distributed. However, the distribution of the water was stopped after recipients said it was spoiled.
If bought in bulk, let’s assume 10 million bottles of water could be purchased for 10 cents each, so 10,000,000 x $0.10 = $1 million. Why pay $300,000 per day in storage costs for water that might only be worth $1 million? Why not distribute it in a more timely manner? Why should it have sat for 8 months in storage and/or on the tarmac? Who was responsible for this water after it was delivered? Questions must be asked…and answered.
Theis under fresh scrutiny over photos showing what appear to be millions of water bottles meant for victims still sitting on a runway in Ceiba, Puerto Rico, more than one year after the storm.
The Puerto Rican government has placed much of the blame for mismanagement of resources on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). A senior FEMA official told CBS News’ David Begnaud that “if [FEMA] put that water on that runway there will be hell to pay … If we did that, we’re going to fess up to it.”
The images of huge stacks of bottled water began circulating on social media Tuesday, the same day Presidentduring a meeting on hurricane preparedness in the Oval Office. because of the storm.
The photos were taken by Abdiel Santana, who works with the United Forces of Rapid Action agency of the Puerto Rican Police. Santana said he snapped the photos because he was angry to still see them sitting there, nearly a year after he first spotted them. Santana told CBS News he took pictures of the bottles last fall, but has not provided those photos yet.
Marty Bahamonde, director of disaster operations at FEMA, confirmed that the agency delivered the bottled water to the island but said the agency didn’t track specific shipments. It’s not clear what became of the bottles after the delivery. FEMA is investigating whether or not the agency placed the water bottles on the runway.
Carlos Mercader, the executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, outlined in a statement what he saw as FEMA’s missteps in handling the water bottles. Mercader said FEMA should have distributed the water to victims on the island, since they were in the agency’s possession. He said the runway in Ceiba is federally managed land, and that FEMA should have deemed the water bottles “excess inventory” months ago.
The General Services Administration in Puerto Rico (GSA) says it requested FEMA’s inventory of excess water through a federal program on April 17 and was given approval to use the supplies on April 26. In total, documents show the GSA claimed about 20,000 pallets of bottled water.
The GSA administrator for Puerto Rico, Ottmar Chávez, said FEMA reported it had the excess bottled water before he took control. Chávez said he only became aware of the bottled water on Tuesday and does not know why it is there, how it got there or how long it has been there. He now says he would like FEMA to take responsibility for the water, because his agency has received two complaints about the taste and smell of the water.
Barceloneta is one of the municipalities that complained about the taste and odor of the water. Mayor Wanda Soler Rosario office said her office was “surprised by the reports” and denied having ever made a complaint. “I want to clarify that at no time was any verbal or written information submitted that represented a complaint about the water we received,” Rosario said in a statement to CBS News.
Chávez, the GSA administrator, said he was in contact with FEMA and the Department of Health to test the water.
Puerto Rico’s governor last month raised the U.S. territory’s official death toll from Hurricane Maria from 64 to 2,975. The storm, which devastated the territory last September, is also estimated to have caused $100 billion in damage.
Below is the full statement from Mercader, the executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration:
Hundreds of thousands of water bottles meant for victims of Hurricane Maria are still sitting at a Puerto Rico airport — nearly a year after the deadly storm, according to a report.
A photo showing the bottles in boxes and covered in a blue tarp on a runway in Ceiba was shared widely on social media Tuesday evening.
“Although you don’t believe it… almost a million boxes of water that were never delivered to the villages,” posted Abdiel Santana, a photographer working for a Puerto Rican state police agency who took the pictures. “Is there anyone who can explain this?”
FEMA acknowledged to CBS News on Wednesday that the bottles were brought inland in 2017 in the wake of the hurricane and that they were turned over to “central government.”
It is unclear where the breakdown that caused the bottles to never be distributed was caused.
Celebrity chef José Andrés, who brought a crew of volunteers to help feed victims of Maria in the wake of the storm, called for an “official independent investigation” into what happened to the stash of drinking water.
“My teams knew about it but first they will say, ‘no we can not use them,’ months later water was no good for human consumption,” he tweeted. “We were ‘buying’ water because they wouldn’t give it to us.” He didn’t specify who “they” was.
The revelation comes as President Trump doubled down on his administration’s response to Hurricane Maria on Wednesday and lashed out at the mayor of San Juan, who has been a critic of the effort, as “incompetent.”
The president raised eyebrows Tuesday when he touted the response efforts in a meeting to go over preparations for the potentially devastating Hurricane Florence inching toward the Carolinas.
“The job that FEMA and law enforcement and everybody did, working along with the governor in Puerto Rico, I think was tremendous. I think that Puerto Rico was an incredible, unsung success,” he had said.
The death toll in Hurricane Maria is estimated to be nearly 3,000, a steep increase from the initial 64.
Thousands of bottles of FEMA water abandoned in Puerto Rico on unused runway for months
President Donald Trump on Tuesday deemed the federal government’s response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico a year ago “incredibly successful” even though a recent federal report found that nearly 3,000 people died. (Sept. 11) AP
Amid the uproar over President Donald Trump’s claim of an “unsung success” in the government’s response to the hurricane in Puerto Rico last year comes the odd report of a stockpile of tens of thousands of abandoned bottles of water sitting on an unused runway in Puerto Rico for almost nine months.
Photos of the long stretch of bottles wrapped in blue plastic on about 20,000 pallets surfaced earlier this week. CBS News, which broke the story, said the photos were taken by Abdiel Santana, who works with the United Forces of Rapid Action agency of the Puerto Rican Police.
Carlos Mercader, executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, said in a statement that the bottles were not delivered to the government of Puerto Rico during last year’s emergency because they were in the custody of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) until April 2018.
He said a career official for the General Services Administration in Puerto Rico (GSA) requested FEMA’s inventory of excess water this year through a federal program on April 17 and was given approval to use the supplies on April 26, 2018.
But by the time 700 bottles were distributed, the water was undrinkable, with residents complaining of its foul smell and taste.
Angel Cruz Ramos, mayor of Ceiba, where the runway is located, told CNN he’s grateful for the generosity but believes too much water was delivered at the wrong time. “The time and heat has made it bad,” he said.
Given the complaints, Mercader said, the government decided not to continue using the water bottles in order to carry out tests and give the water back to the federal government. He said FEMA should have given out the water immediately after Hurricane Maria or declared them excess inventory before April.
For its part, FEMA said Wednesday that it “purchased the water as part of its supplies and determined there was a surplus” before making the water “available to any agency that needed it.”
“Once the transfer of water took place, the water became property of the government of Puerto Rico,” FEMA said, according to Reuters.
Daniel Kaniewski, deputy administrator at FEMA, told Gayle King on “CBS This Morning” that there were excess bottles of water “because the demand was less … because the water came back on.”
He said the bottles were transferred in January to the runway “to save money to the American taxpayer. We didn’t need it sitting in expensive storage. We put it in a location that would not cost us money.”
According to a recent Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll on the impact of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Ricans, 50 percent said people in their households could not get enough water to drink and 53 percent said they were still worried about the quality of water in their homes.
The snafu reflected the complications of different governmental agencies interacting – or not – during emergencies.
FEMA handles getting the supplies to the state or commonwealth, which in turn handle distributing those items at a local level, said Jeff Byard, FEMA Associate Administrator for Response and Recovery. “Obviously with Maria, we had not a supply issue, we had distribution issues,” he said in a briefing Wednesday about Hurricane Florence.
Ottmar Chavez, now administrator of Puerto Rico’s General Services Administration, said FEMA reported that it had about 20,000 pallets of excess bottled water in May this year, before he was appointed.
Puerto Rico’s GSA has ordered an internal investigation and assumes responsibility for requesting emergency it could not handle in a “timely manner” and for receiving supplies that were “not apt for consumption,” Mercader said in his statement.
“In light of this, we have been in contact with FEMA and the Department of Health to test the water inventory received by the federal agency,” Chavez said. “We are going to return those.”