Warehouse Full of Unused Aid Found in Puerto Rico... Heads Are Rolling
A verbal battle is going on in Puerto Rico. It's between former Housing Secretary Fernando Gil Ensenat and Governor Wanda Vazquez Garced.
So far, Vazquez seems to be leading. After all, she fired Ensenat last weekend. But he's not going away quietly.
This all started when unused aid including disaster supplies was discovered in a warehouse.
It had been intended for the people of Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria's devastation in 2017. And many of those people are now steaming mad.
The Blame Game
Vazquez also fired Emergency Management Director Carlos Acevedo and another high-ranking official. Then she made a statement.
She said, "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."
But Ensenat has publicly stated that Vazquez knew about the unused aid sitting in a warehouse in Ponce. He said the aid was hidden from "no one."
Ensenat says his firing is unfair. Vazquez says he was fired because he jeopardized federal housing aid funds.
She also said the investigation's findings are confidential. But some Puerto Ricans are protesting. They want the findings released now. And some are demanding her resignation.
Earthquakes Add to Misery
One government employee said Vazquez "needs to stop blaming others and show her face."
It was only about a year ago that protests led to the resignation of the previous governor.
He is Ricardo Rossello. He was accused of mishandling recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria. Vazquez, who replaced him, had been the island's Justice Secretary.
The hurricane killed approximately 3,000 people and caused about $90 billion in damages. And now, a string of earthquakes has hit the island, putting residents in a worse mood.
Food and Water Have Expired
Despite who ends up losing the verbal battle, the real victims are the people of Puerto Rico. They could have benefitted from this aid if it had been distributed.
Hundreds of people in the southern city of Ponce have been left homeless by the recent quake and tremors.
Why not just use the warehouse's large supply of disaster relief now? Well, because much of it has expired.
Including pallets of baby food and water. Other items found in the warehouse were tarps, gas stoves, diapers, cots, air mattresses and sheets.
Old Wounds Opened
Once word got out about the warehouse supplies, people forced open the doors and began distributing the items.
Among those who entered the warehouse, one shouted out expiration dates. Water on one pallet expired in October 2017.
Another said, "While people were suffering after Maria, this place was full of water." The hurricane hit the island in September 2017.
One protester said the recent earthquakes have opened old wounds. And the warehouse situation has ignited a new spark.
More Funding Pouring In
Vazquez is defending her decision to fire the three officials. She says she has lost confidence in them. But she says their absence will not delay the distribution of federal funds to those in need.
"They weren't able to personally tell me specifically where these centers were located." Or "what they contained and whether an inventory was completed," she said.
Recently the Trump Administration released federal funding for Puerto Rico totaling $8.2 billion.
Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson delayed that release for months. Because he was concerned about how it would be spent.
Ponce Mayor Is Fuming
Social media spread the warehouse story quickly. One activist organized an island-wide strike.
Maria Melendez, the mayor of Ponce, has expressed her displeasure with the situation.
"This is outrageous," she said. "Everyone knows what us mayors went through after Hurricane Maria to try and get help to our cities.
"And how we've worked these weeks to provide basic supplies to people affected by earthquakes. Those involved owe us an explanation."
7,000 Living in Shelters
Ines Rivera is a spokesperson for the city of Ponce. She was interviewed by the Associated Press.
She said the warehouse in question is owned by Puerto Rico's Company of Commerce and Export. Company officials were not available for comment.
Ponce is in the spotlight once again. This time due to the recent 6.4 magnitude earthquake that caused more than $200 million in damages. And due to the warehouse incident. More than 7,000 people are now living in shelters.
Vazquez said she has nominated Jose Reyes to be the new commissioner. That's for the State Bureau for Emergency Management and Disaster Management. Currently he oversees the Puerto Rican National Guard.
Don't Depend on the Government
No matter how this all shakes out, there is a lesson here for Puerto Ricans. And for all Americans.
That lesson is you can't depend on the government to save you when a crisis hits. There are just too many logistical problems with trying to provide aid for many people during a disaster.
The only way to ensure that you and your family will have the food and water and other supplies you need is by preparing in advance.
Stock up on survival food, have plenty of drinking water on hand and have bug-out bags fully stocked and ready to go at a moment's notice.
That's the best way to achieve peace of mind.