Tons of Water Sent to Puerto Rico’s Hurricane Maria Victims Was Never Distributed

September 12, 2018, 11:28 PM UTC

The United States is bracing for another hurricane season as Florence spirals toward the Eastern seaboard. And yet instances of the inadequate response to the destructive storms of 2017 are still coming to light. A vast shipment of water bottles that were intended to be delivered to victims of 2017’s destructive Hurricane Maria appear to be still sitting, unused one year later, on a runway in Ceiba, Puerto Rico.

Abdiel Santana, a member of a Puerto Rican police agency tasked with emergency response, shared photos on Facebook of a vast number of boxes covered in blue tarp on an airport runway. The boxes, Santana said, were delivered before Maria’s arrival. “Will there be someone who can explain this?” he wrote in the Facebook post.

Santana’s photos began to go viral on the same day that President Trump called his administration’s response to Maria an “incredible, unsung success.” Data contradicts that assessment. Puerto Rico officials have estimated the death toll from Maria at 2,975 people. Other, independent estimates place the number at 1,270 and 5,740, with financial damages from the storm exceeding $100 billion in damage and some rural residents still lacking power.

A CBS reporter who picked up on the viral photos of the unused water bottles confirmed that they were brought to the island and turned over to Puerto Rico’s central government. “If [FEMA] put that water on that runway there will be hell to pay,” an unnamed senior FEMA official told CBS. “If we did that, we’re going to fess up to it.” CBS said that the number of unused water bottles could be in the millions.

Santana told CBS that he also took pictures of the water bottles last fall, although he has not posted them. While FEMA is blaming the Puerto Rico government for dropping the ball, a Puerto Rican official claimed that distributing the water to Maria’s victims was FEMA’s responsibility.

While the finger-pointing won’t do much to help Maria’s victims or prepare for a new round of Atlantic storms, the incident is not the first instance of emergency-relief supplies not receiving those who needed them. Last month, the New York Times reported that 10 trailers of food and other supplies were found rotting in a parking lot in Puerto Rico, where they were devoured by rats.