At least nine shipping containers filled with donations for Puerto Rican victims of Hurricane Maria sat for almost a year in a parking lot, where contents rotted and were contaminated by vermin.
Video of the containers, which have been parked at the San Juan offices of the local elections commission, was published Friday by Radio Isla, a radio station in San Juan. The video shows boxes of food, medicine, and baby supplies that are damaged and covered in animal droppings.
After the video was published, the National Guard said in a statement that some of the food wasn’t immediately distributed because it had expired. The Guard did not explain why nonperishable items, such as crates of water bottles, weren’t immediately sent to hurricane victims. Spoiled items will be thrown away, and items including fans, batteries, and nonperishable food will be distributed, it said.
“It will be delivered soon to nonprofit organizations and people in need,” Brig. Gen. Isabelo Rivera said in the statement Friday.
A call from BuzzFeed News to a National Guard spokesperson wasn’t immediately returned.
Immediately after last fall’s hurricane, donations were distributed by the National Guard, and local elections offices served as a staging ground for items from nonprofit groups and other private donors, the New York Times reported.
The National Guard wrapped up its mission in May, the Times reported, and some of the donations arrived after that.
Nicolás Gautier at the elections office told CBS's David Begnaud that he’d been complaining about the containers for months to the National Guard and the Puerto Rico governor’s office. Every time he called, he was assured the containers would be moved in a matter of weeks.
After 11 months, though, the containers remained in the parking lot.
Gautier said his office hadn’t been involved in distributing donations and he wasn’t sure what was inside the containers. But he added one apparently held boxes of dog food that broke open, drawing rats. The rats got into the election commission offices as well.
“It bothers me to have this container that doesn’t belong to the commission in here for so long,” he said. “Almost a year.”
Puerto Rico Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz called for an investigation in a post on Facebook.
“It’s incredible that [the donations] weren’t distributed to so many people in need,” he said, adding it was necessary to find who was responsible. “This is UNACCEPTABLE.”