An angry crowd in earthquake-rattled Puerto Rico stormed a warehouse Saturday after learning that it contained a stash of emergency supplies — that had been sitting untouched since Hurricane Maria slammed the island in 2017.
The chaos in the historic city of Ponce comes just one week after a 6.4-magnitude earthquake shook the island, which has yet to recover from the devastation of Maria — a Category 5 hurricane that killed more than 3,000 people and left much of the country without electricity.
Word of the squandered supplies spread online Saturday after blogger Lorenzo Delgado posted a video on Facebook of locals breaking into the warehouse, which is shown to be holding cases of bottled water and other emergency supplies.
Locals are seen hauling cases out of the warehouse, and — in one image — distributing the supplies to a throng of people outside.
“This is outrageous,” Ponce Mayor Maria Melendez told reporters. “Everyone knows what us mayors went through after Hurricane Maria and 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,” she said.
The discovery prompted Gov. Wanda Vazquez on Saturday to fire the island’s director of emergency management, Carlos Acevedo, and to order a full investigation into the matter.
On Sunday, Vázquez fired the heads of Puerto Rico’s housing and family departments, Housing Secretary Fernando Gil and Department of Family Secretary Glorimar Andújar.
“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,” Vazquez said, noting that the supplies had been in the warehouse since Maria.
The governor has asked the Puerto Rican senate to install Jose Reyes, head of the island’s national guard, as the new commissioner of emergency management.
Secretary of State Elmer Roman told Univision news Saturday that there may also be other warehouses on the island with unused stores of supplies.
He said officials hoped to wrap up the initial probe into the controversy within 48 hours.
“The instructions are clear: All of the supplies that are available will be distributed,” Roman told the Spanish-language network.
Last week’s earthquake killed at least one person and caused an estimated $200 million in damage while forcing more than 7,000 people to seek refuge in shelters.