Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced on Sunday fired two more top officials in wake of the fallout from the discovery of unused Hurricane Maria aid.
Garced relieved Secretary of Housing Fernando Gil and Department of Family Secretary Glorimar Andújar of their duties one day after removing the island’s emergency management agency director Carlos Acevedo.
“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,” a furious Vazquez said in a statement.
The governor has nominated Jose Reyes, head of Puerto Rico’s National Guard, to replace the ousted official.
Acevedo issued a statement of his own, denying that the supplies were mismanaged after a viral video revealed unused water bottles sitting in a warehouse.
“The citizen who entered today to share the images on social networks, violated the security perimeter, which represented a risk for him,” claimed Acevedo. “For this reason, our colleagues instructed him to leave the area.”
Anger erupted in Puerto Rico on Saturday after an online blogger posted a live video of the warehouse in the southern coastal city of Ponce filled with water bottles, cots, baby food, and other basic supplies that had apparently been sitting there since Hurricane Maria battered the U.S. territory in September 2017.
The blogger, Lorenzo Delgado, said he had received a tip about the warehouse but did not specify when. A group of people broke into the warehouse and began distributing supplies to those affected by the recent 6.4 magnitude quake that killed one person and caused damage across Puerto Rico’s southern region. More than 7,000 people remain in shelters as strong aftershocks continue.
Ponce Mayor María Meléndez said she was outraged, noting that she and other mayors were trying to find basic supplies since the quake.
“I spent several days requesting cots and water,” she 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 asked how it was possible that she did not know about the existence of the warehouse, Vázquez replied, “That’s what the head of agencies are for… to inform the governor.”
Vázquez said she worried that the warehouse discovery and the fallout would affect the credibility of the territorial government in Washington, which has temporarily retained some federal funds for Maria relief amid concerns of corruption and mismanagement.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized Puerto Rico for misusing disaster recovery aid.
“Puerto Rico has been taken care of better by Donald Trump than by any living human being and I think the people of Puerto Rico understand it,” the president said in March 2018. “You have the mayor of San Juan that, frankly, doesn’t know what she’s doing and the governor, they have to spend the money wisely. They don’t know how to spend the money and they’re not spending it wisely.”
Following the hurricane, President Trump urged Congress to make access to financing from the Treasury Department a top priority to help the island.
“We need to treat Puerto Rico equally to Texas or Florida or any other state,” he said at the time.
Then-Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló lauded the administration’s recovery response to the disaster, stating “the president and the administration, every time we’ve asked them to execute, they’ve executed quickly.”
The development comes after the Department of Housing and Urban Development released an additional $8.2 billion in aid to Puerto Rico. A hold was placed on the funds due to concerns of mismanagement by the island’s government.
“Now that proper financial controls are in place, implementing the second phase of Puerto Rico’s disaster recovery program can move forward with an extension to its line of credit,” Carson said Thursday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.