Millions of Bottles of Water Never Got to Maria Victims

September 13, 2018 Updated: September 14, 2018

When the people of Puerto Rico were suffering after being slammed by Hurricane Maria in 2017, the U.S. government rushed emergency supplies to the battered island.

But not all of that aid reached the people who needed it.

A photograph taken by a Puerto Rican police agency worker seems to show that while thousands of people were suffering in remote villages, millions of bottles of water sat cooking in the sun on an airport runway in a region that had been hit particularly hard by the storm.   

Aunque usted no lo crea… casi un millón de cajas de agua que nunca fueron entregadas al pueblo d P.R., ante la emergencia del huracán María.¿ Habrá alguién que pueda explicar esto?

Posted by Abdiel Santana on Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Abdiel Santana of the United Forces Rapid Action police agency said he first saw bottles sitting on an airport runway in Ceiba, Puerto Rico, last October, CBS reported.

Santana published pictures of the pallets of water bottles, covered by blue tarps, sitting on a runway, on Facebook. CBS reporter David Begnaud claims he interviewed Santana and in a video posted on Sept. 11, said Santana was “angry, upset, and mad” that the water was still there.  

Anger is not an unreasonable response.

Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rossello, raised the death toll from Hurricane Maria to 2,975, making the storm the deadliest in U.S. history. Gov. Rossello based the number on an estimate made by the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University (pdf).

CBS reporter David Begnaud posted, “The water was kept in an area that was pretty hard-hit during the storm and could have used all the water they could have gotten.”

What Went Wrong?

Not surprisingly, no one wants to take responsibility for the wasted water, or for the harm it might have averted.

According to CBS, Marty Bahamonde, director of disaster operations at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confirms that FEMA delivered water to the island but cannot confirm that the agency left the water in question on the runway.

Residents evacuate after the passing of Hurricane Maria
Residents evacuate after the passing of Hurricane Maria, in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico on Sept. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)

David Begnaud claims that he called FEMA and was told that FEMA had delivered those specific water bottles to Puerto Rico last year. Once delivered, the water bottles were reportedly turned over to the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) in Puerto Rico.

A GSA representative reportedly told TheBlaze that “GSA was neither assigned nor responsible for the distribution of water bottles to hurricane victims. Additionally, GSA did not procure water for FEMA during the referenced event [Hurricane Maria].”

Water Wasted

Carlos Mercader, the executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, released a statement in which he blamed FEMA for letting the water go to waste.

In the statement Mercader claims, “The water bottles currently in Ceiba were not delivered to the Government of Puerto Rico to give out during an emergency since it was under FEMA’s custody and it wasn’t until April 2018 that the Government was notified that it was excess inventory that could be requested.”

Mercader states that GSA requested the water on April 17 of this year, and received permission to distribute it on April 26.

National Guard personnel evacuate Maria victims
National Guard personnel evacuate Toa Ville resident Luis Alberto Martinez after the passing of Hurricane Maria, in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico on Sept. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)

The Puerto Rican government started picking up and distributing the water on May 30, the statement claims, but people who received the water complained that it smelled and tasted foul.

In the statement, Mercader claims the Puerto Rican government took possession of 732 pallets of water, out of a total of about 20,000.

Based on normal packing methods, there would be about 72 cases per pallet of 24 bottles, or 1,728 bottles per pallet. If the total shipment had indeed been 20,000 cases, that would have been millions of gallons of water wasted.


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