Over the last 11 months, there have been plenty of reports of how the U.S. government has failed to adequately respond to relief efforts in Puerto Rico — and the streak continues. Officials allowed donated food that was extended to Hurricane Maria victims to rot, according to a new report. Ten containers of donated supplies that were non-perishable and the food were left sitting at a government facility for 11 months. They were found this week covered in rat and lizard droppings, The New York Times reported.
A local Puerto Rican station, Radio Isla, first posted video of deserted and tarnished containers of water, Tylenol, and other items. After Maria, many people wanted to help as they learned about the extended suffering from last year’s hurricane — many residents were left with out power for months — so nonprofits and private entities donated everything from fans to food. Much of what was pledged was brought the Puerto Rico elections commission’s offices, where goods were stored until the National Guard could distribute them, The Times explained.
Although problems from Maria didn’t stop, the National Guard technically ended their mission in May. Major Paul Dahlen, a spokesman for the National Guard, told The Times he agreed that “it should have been handed out as soon as possible,” but noted that some of the items were donated after the National Guard was done with their mission.
“The containers have been there for a long time, but they weren’t necessarily filled at all times,” Major Dahlen told The Times. “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.”
The National Guard also said in a statement to The Times that the containers in the Radio Isla video that showed rodent droppings on supplies were used to store food that had come to the island after it’s expiration date had passed. That said, they told The Times that things that couldn’t spoil — batteries, fans, and some foods — would be sent to nonprofits.
CBS News’ David Begnaud asked an official from the facility where the food was stored, Nicolás Gautier, to describe the deserted containers.
“Food for dogs, and apparently several of the boxes were broken,” Gautier told Begnaud. “After the placement in the van, that brings a lot of rats and it infected everything.”
On Thursday, the day before the news of the neglected containers broke, The Associated Press reported that Puerto Rican officials said in a report to Congress that they estimate more than 1,400 people were killed by Maria. That number is about 21 times the originally reported death toll of 64, which is still frozen at that low number pending scientific review, according to The AP.
Politico reported on a poll that said many Americans had a negative view of the government’s efforts to help Puerto Rico after Maria. Many believe that the government’s response to the tragedy in a U.S. territory was neither immediate enough, nor adequate. Now the news about the containers further offers tangible evidence that much more could have been done for Puerto Rico — and far sooner.