Puerto Rico official sacked over Hurricane Maria aid warehouse

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A man pulls a pallet of gas canisters in a warehouse in Ponce, Puerto Rico on January 18, 2020Image source, AFP
Image caption,
People in Ponce raided the warehouse when news of its existence spread

Puerto Rico's top emergencies manager has been sacked after video emerged of a warehouse full of supplies dating back to the devastating Hurricane Maria that hit the island in 2017.

Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced said she wanted answers within 48 hours over the undistributed aid.

Sacked director Carlos Acevedo said no-one had been denied "any of the items" found in the warehouse.

Since 2017, Puerto Rico has been hit by a series of hurricanes and earthquakes.

The island is still recovering from Hurricane Maria, a category-five storm that devastated parts of the Caribbean in September 2017.

In Puerto Rico alone, the hurricane is estimated to have killed 2,975 people and caused $100bn (£75bn) of damage.

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Six months after Hurricane Maria, many Puerto Ricans suffered in the dark

What did the video show?

The island was hit by the strongest quake in 102 years early this month. At one point in the aftermath, two-thirds of the population had no power.

One of the worst affected areas was the city of Ponce, in the south of the island.

Video of Ponce residents breaking into the warehouse went viral on Saturday.

It showed thousands of cases of water and other supplies.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
People started emptying the warehouse until police arrived

"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," Governor Vázquez Garcel said in her statement.

The mayor of Ponce, María Meléndez, said news of the warehouse and its contents was "outrageous".

"Everyone knows what us mayors went through after Hurricane Maria 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."

What is the sacked director's defence?

Carlos Acevedo - the sacked commissioner of the National Emergency Management and Disaster Relief Agency - dismissed any insinuation of wrongdoing as "insane".

The warehouse - containing water, food, nappies and cots - was discovered when the building was inspected after the earthquake, Mr Acevedo said.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Thousands of people have been sleeping outside, fearing that their homes might collapse in the event of another tremor

He said that water was distributed to the public when Hurricane Dorian and Hurricane Karen threatened Puerto Rico, but about 80 pallets - out of some 600 - remained as they had expired.

The Fire Department Bureau had distributed aid from the warehouse to those affected by the earthquakes, he said, adding: "It is of utmost importance to emphasise that no citizen has been denied any of the items stored at the warehouse.

"At the moment there is no shortage of any of these articles and they are being distributed to the people who need it. This may be corroborated in the shelters and base camps."

What's the situation in Puerto Rico?

Thousands of people have been sleeping outside or in their cars since the 6.4-magnitude quake on 7 January.

The south of the island was hardest hit, with dozens of homes in towns including Yauco, Guanica and Guayanilla collapsing.

The earthquakes knocked out Puerto Rico's main generating facility, the Costa Sur plant, and damaged other infrastructure.

A 73-year-old man in the southern city of Ponce was the only confirmed death.

US President Donald Trump has signed a major disaster declaration, authorising federal aid.

Puerto Rico, a US territory of about 3.2 million people, is situated between the North America and Caribbean tectonic plates, making it vulnerable to earthquakes.