This is widescale failure. It’s also the kind of story that makes those who might otherwise be inclined to help in time of great calamity to hold their pocketbooks a bit closer.
Puerto Rico, by every recent report, is still not completely out of the woods, as far as the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria in 2017.
To date, the death toll from the storm has been marked at 1,427 deaths.
It was only this week that that number was given to Congress. For many months, the government has stood by the count of 67.
A $139 billion reconstruction plan has also been put in place to repair the island.
It is the second deadliest hurricane to hit the island since these events have began to be recorded, sometime in the 19th century.
In the days after the category 4 storm passed, nearly the entire island was left without power. Some may remember the controversy with the contractors assigned to restore power.
Grifters came out of the woodwork.
Now, there’s a new outrage to heap onto the pile of failure that has been the response to Maria, in spite of the plight of the people.
On Friday, the New York Times reported that there were at least 10 trailers full of donated supplies, sitting idle, overrun with rats, spoiled food, water, baby supplies, and various goods.
The Times noted that local radio station, Radio Isla, published a video showing cases of items such as beans, Tylenol and water covered in rat and lizard droppings.
There was a lot of chatter in the immediate aftermath of Maria, as the mayor of San Juan and President Trump traded jabs over how much was getting done, or the speed and efficiency of the aid arriving.
This would be one of those situations where you had to really question the coordinated efforts to get these supplies into the hands of the people.
According to the report, donations from nonprofit organizations and private entities were brought to the Puerto Rico elections commission offices as a collection point. From there, the National Guard would distribute the goods.
As things on the island gradually began to improve, the flow of donations apparently kept coming, so they were stored in trailers in the parking lot of San Juan’s election bureau offices.
Let’s not be mistaken about what was happening. There was still need. There were still supplies. Those supplies were not getting to the people.
Officials confirmed to The Times that the items had remained in trailers for almost a year.
“I agree, it should have been handed out as soon as possible,” Maj. Paul Dahlen, a spokesman for the National Guard, told The Times, adding that some of the materials were received after the National Guard ended its mission in May.
So who should have been responsible for distribution, at that point? Should it have been local resources? Was there anyone? Could they have asked for volunteers?
This was a waste of resources in an area where there should have been no room for waste.
Nicolás Gautier, interim president of the elections council, told CBS News that "whatever was left after the National Guard left was put in those containers.”
“In one of these containers was food for dogs and apparently several of the boxes were broken," he added. "After the placement in the van, that brings a lot of rats and it infected everything.”
I’ve worked with organizations that distribute aid – food, clothing, household goods, etc.. to the community’s most needy. There has to be a coordinated effort in not only distribution, but quality control.
Somebody dropped the ball, here, in such a big way.
I don’t even want to get into the politics of it. There was (and is) a need that should have been met.
In a statement to The Times, the National Guard also said the containers seen in the video were being used to store food that had arrived after its expiration date. The statement also said items in the trailers that were not spoiled would be delivered to nonprofit groups soon.
On the one hand, it is a positive thing to know that these donations were made available and people were giving.
On the other hand, it’s inexcusable that there was so much waste.