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Watch while boxes of water bottles languish in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria

Municipal workers distribute water and ice provided by the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), after Hurricane Maria hit the island in September 2017
Reuters/Alvin Baez
Bottle rocked
By Daniel Wolfe
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

A stockpile of water has been languishing on an airport runway in Puerto Rico for months. The crates were intended to aid victims of Hurricane Maria after the storm made landfall on September 20, 2017. They could be seen stacking up at a federally-operated airport in Ceiba as early as January 2018. Satellite images from Planet Labs now show a 500 meter stretch of supplies, leaving many wondering why the aid remained there for months.

Attention to the Ceiba stockpile began when Abdiel Santana, an employee of the United Forces of Rapid Action agency, a division of the police force in Puerto Rico, posted photos to Facebook. CBS News confirmed with the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Puerto Rican government that the stacks of water are sitting dormant.

The government of Puerto Rico says the water was first not distributed because they weren’t given access to it. By the time the local officials were able to bring it to nearby municipalities like Barceloneta, Lares, San Sebastián and Yauco, residents complained the water smelled and had a bad taste. Puerto Rico stopped delivering the water provided by FEMA, and left it on the runway. (The Puerto Rican government issued what it says is the timeline of events leading to the distribution failure.)

FEMA spokesperson Dasha Castillo told Quartz that the agency determined it had a surplus of drinking water in Puerto Rico and transferred it to local officials when requested. “Once the transfer of water took place, the water became property of the government of Puerto Rico.”

While FEMA may be trying to avoid blame publicly, internally their could be plenty of blame to go around. “If [FEMA] put that water on that runway there will be hell to pay,” an unnamed senior FEMA official told CBS. “If we did that, we’re going to fess up to it.”

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