Puerto Rico Hurricane Maria Donations Never Given Out, Left Sitting in Parking Lot

At least 10 trailers filled food, water and medical supplies donated to victims of Hurricane Maria have been found sitting unattended in a parking lot outside a state elections office in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The containers had been broken open and were infested with rats, The New York Times reported. A local radio station—Radio Isla—posted a video on Friday showing cases of a range of supplies, including food and water, covered in rat and lizard droppings.

The election commission office was being used a collection point for humanitarian supplies. Hurricane Maria devastated the U.S. territory when it swept over the island in September, leaving residents without power or running water for weeks. It was revealed this week that 1,427 people died a result of the hurricane, either when it hit the island or in the months that followed.

RTX3HKCQ Cars drive under a partially collapsed utility pole after the island was hit by Hurricane Maria in September, in Naguabo, Puerto Rico, on October 20, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

The donated goods were distributed by the National Guard. Once the immediate crisis was over, the leftover materials were stored inside trailers in the parking lot. Officials have now admitted the trailers have been sat there for more than a year, even though citizens are still struggling to recover.

Major Paul Dahlen, a spokesman for the National Guard, said, “it should have been handed out as soon as possible.” The Guard’s mission on the island ended in May. Dahlen said he did not know why the supplies were not taken into the care of another organization.

Nicolás Gautier, interim president of the elections council, told CBS News he had been calling the National Guard and the governor's office to ask what was to be done with the donations. “Whatever was left after the National Guard left was put in those containers,” he explained.

“In one of these containers was food for dogs and apparently several of the boxes were broken. After the placement in the van, that brings a lot of rats and it infected everything,” Gautier said, adding that the rats had since spread into the election offices.

RTS1GXVC People collect mountain spring water, after Hurricane Maria hit the island, in Corozal, Puerto Rico, on October 17, 2017. Running water was in short supply after the storm. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

An elections commission spokeswoman said the containers had been placed there at the request of Puerto Rico’s first lady, Beatriz Rosselló, who founded the United for Puerto Rico group to help distribute supplies. But Rosselló’s organization said it knew nothing of the containers.

A National Guard statement said the container filmed was used to store out of date food which could not be distributed for safety reasons. But this did not explain why water supplies were was not given out, given the lack of available drinking water in the days and weeks after the storm. The remaining non-perishable goods like canned food and batteries will be distributed in the next few days, the Guard said.

“The containers have been there for a long time, but they weren’t necessarily filled at all times,” Dahlen explained. “The good thing is now that thanks to investigative journalism, it will help move along the process and get it where it needs to go in the coming days.”