Nearly a year after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, the fallout, devastation, and political shortcomings continue to take their toll. And the response has been nothing short of shameful.
Another example of this is the discovery this week of 10 trailers filled with donations of food, water, and other essential supplies found rotting in a parking lot in San Juan, at the Puerto Rico elections commission.
A video of the rat-infested donations was posted earlier this week by the local radio station Radio Isla and then reported by CBS News correspondent David Begnaud.
Here’s Radio Isla’s video (in Spanish):
On Friday, Begnaud followed up with his own video that you can watch here.
Following the discovery, the National Guard in a statement said it would distribute the aid in coming days, and that it was held because some of the items had passed their expiration dates.
According to the National Guard:
The Adjutant General of Puerto Rico, Brig. Gen. Isabelo Rivera, explained today that the merchandise stored in containers at the State Election Commission facilities, related to the collection center to help the victims of Hurricane Maria, will finish with its distribution in the next few days.
The Adjutant General explained that most of the donations handled by the National Guard were already distributed but a small part of the merchandise had particular problems for distribution mainly because of the expiration date of the food.
According to The New York Times, the National Guard ended its efforts to assist distribution in Puerto Rico last May. But there was no indication as to why another agency hadn’t taken over, leaving badly needed supplies to rot and become infested with rodents.
Reporting on this has led to a lot of finger-pointing. Per the Times:
A spokeswoman for the elections commission said the offices were being used as a storage point at the request of Puerto Rico’s first lady, Beatriz Rosselló, who founded a group that served as an umbrella for donations, United for Puerto Rico. The spokeswoman said the donated material was being managed by the National Guard.
United for Puerto Rico said it had no knowledge of the containers and had nothing to do with them. In a statement, the National Guard said the container captured on video was being used to hold food that had arrived after its expiration date, and had not been held back from distribution in order to protect peoples’ health. However, the video also showed cases of water, which was also in short supply at times after the storm.
Additionally, earlier this week, a draft report to Congress by the Puerto Rican government acknowledged that 1,427 people had died likely as a result of the hurricane, a significantly larger number than the previous official death toll of 64 from the Puerto Rico Department of Public Safety. The larger number comes from totaling additional deaths between September and December 2017 compared to the average number over the same four-month period in the preceding four years.
On Saturday, The Washington Post also reported that thousands of Puerto Ricans scattered across the mainland after being displaced by the hurricane might soon lose their temporary housing, with no alternative plan in place to help them. Many of them are living in hotels.
According to the report:
The calls, warning that they soon would have to leave and find their own places to live, came by robot.
Every two weeks or so, the automated voice would tell Analee Dalmau and hundreds of other displaced Puerto Rican families that the deadline was looming, that they would soon have to move out of their hotel rooms, that their refuge would no longer be covered by federal funds.
“We are in anguish, and I’m getting sick thinking about going back to living in a borrowed car with my entire family on the streets,” Dalmau told the Post.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which runs the temporary sheltering program, is now being sued by the civil rights organization LatinoJustice for failing to have a backup plan.
“Failure” seems to be an abundantly appropriate word to describe nearly every aspect of the crisis response in Puerto Rico to Hurricane Maria. And there is little indication that this reality will soon change.