Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

FEMA Left 20,000 Pallets of Water Bottles on Puerto Rico Runway for at Least Four Months

Politics
FEMA Left 20,000 Pallets of Water Bottles on Puerto Rico Runway for at Least Four Months
A Puerto Rico militia member loads water onto a truck at a FEMA distribution center in Ponce on Oct. 26, 2017. Army National Guard / Sgt. Avery Cunningham

As the federal government prepares for Hurricane Florence this week, alarming photos are raising fresh questions about its response to Hurricane Maria last year.

The photos, first reported by CBS Wednesday after going viral on social media the day before, show potentially millions of water bottles sitting on a runway in Ceiba, Puerto Rico nearly a year after the storm.


The water bottles were delivered to Puerto Rico by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Director of Disaster Operations Marty Bahamonde confirmed to CBS.

"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," a senior FEMA official told CBS News' David Begnaud, who has covered the Maria recovery process extensively.

However, in an interview with CBS Thursday morning, FEMA Deputy Administrator Daniel Kaniewski defended the placement of the water bottles.

He said they were excess water bottles not needed during recovery that were taken out of storage and placed on the runway in January to save money.

"I'm confident that those that needed those bottles of water got them during the response phase and these were excess bottles of water that were, again, transferred to save money for the American taxpayer in January," Kaniewski said.

The bottles were transferred to the Puerto Rican government in April, Kaniewski said, according to a transcript of the interview tweeted by Begnaud.

In a video posted on Twitter, Begnaud raised questions about Kaniewski's answers.

"If you're trying to save the taxpayer money, why wouldn't you move it to another facility where you house supplies that can be used in a later disaster?" Begnaud asked.

Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration Executive Director Carlos Mercader confirmed the April transfer in a statement provided to CBS Wednesday.

According to that statement, a career official from Puerto Rico's General Services Administration (GSA) requested the excess water bottles from FEMA on April 17 and the request was granted April 26.

The GSA claimed about 20,000 pallets of water, CBS reported.

On May 30, the government collected some of the water bottles from the landing strip and distributed 732 pallets of water between that date and Aug. 12, the statement said.

The government stopped distributing the bottles when they received complaints about the taste and odor of the water. The Puerto Rican government then decided to test the bottles and return them to the federal government.

The water bottles sat on the runway for four months before being passed off to the Puerto Rican government, according to Kaniewski 's own account.

Challenging Kaniewski's timeline is the statement by a member of the Puerto Rico United Forces of Rapid Action Abdiel Santana, who took the photos of the bottles that began circulating on social media Tuesday.

He told CBS Wednesday he originally noticed the bottles last fall and took photos at the time.

Begnaud said on Twitter that blue shows up on satellite images of the runway starting in January.

The federal government's response to Hurricane Maria has been in the news in recent weeks after the Puerto Rican government raised the official death toll from 64 to 2,975 this August.

In a press conference Tuesday, President Donald Trump dismissed those criticisms, saying his administration's response to Hurricane Maria was "incredibly successful."

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz criticized his self-congratulatory tone in an interview Tuesday, CNN reported, saying no public official should ever be content with everything they did in response to a disaster.

"But the president continues to refuse to acknowledge his responsibility, and the problem is that if he didn't acknowledge it in Puerto Rico, God bless the people of South Carolina and the people of North Carolina," Cruz said.

In a tweet Thursday, Trump doubled down, denying the accuracy of the revised death toll of nearly 3,000.

"3,000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico," Trump tweeted.

Cruz tweeted back her vehement disagreement, The Guardian reported Thursday.

"This is what denial following neglect looks like: Mr Pres in the real world people died on your watch. YOUR LACK OF RESPECT IS APPALLING!," she wrote.

This fall brings three new environmental movies. David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet | Official Trailer

This week marks the official start of fall, but longer nights and colder days can make it harder to spend time outdoors. Luckily, there are several inspiring environmental films that can be streamed at home.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Amazon Employees for Climate Justice walk out and rally at the company's headquarters to demand that leaders take action on climate change in Seattle, Washington on Sept. 20, 2019. JASON REDMOND / AFP via Getty Images

The world's largest online retailer is making it slightly easier for customer to make eco-conscious choices.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Moms Clean Air Force members attend a press conference hosted by Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) announcing legislation to ban chlorpyrifos on July 25, 2017. Moms Clean Air Force

The Trump administration's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a risk assessment for toxic pesticide chlorpyrifos Tuesday that downplayed its effects on children's brains and may be the first indication of how the administration's "secret science" policy could impact public health.

Read More Show Less
Evacuees wait to board a bus as they are evacuated by local and state government officials before the arrival of Hurricane Laura on August 26, 2020 in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Joe Raedle / Getty Images

By Maria Trimarchi and Sarah Gleim

If all the glaciers and ice caps on the planet melted, global sea level would rise by about 230 feet. That amount of water would flood nearly every coastal city around the world [source: U.S. Geological Survey]. Rising temperatures, melting arctic ice, drought, desertification and other catastrophic effects of climate change are not examples of future troubles — they are reality today. Climate change isn't just about the environment; its effects touch every part of our lives, from the stability of our governments and economies to our health and where we live.

Read More Show Less
In 'My Octopus Teacher,' Craig Foster becomes fascinated with an octopus and visits her for hundreds of days in a row. Netflix

In his latest documentary, My Octopus Teacher, free diver and filmmaker Craig Foster tells a unique story about his friendship and bond with an octopus in a kelp forest in Cape Town, South Africa. It's been labeled "the love story that we need right now" by The Cut.

Read More Show Less

Support Ecowatch