Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló told CBS just two days ago that thousands of shipping containers with food, water and medicine are just sitting in the port of San Juan not being distributed. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is disputing those claims.
On Friday morning, Deputy FEMA Administrator Daniel Kaniewski told CNN that the containers in the San Juan port likely hold retail goods and not hurricane relief supplies.
“There are millions of meals and millions of liters of water that are on the island right now that are in the process of being distributed,” Kaniewski said during a live interview. “Now, we’ve seen video images of cargo containers sitting in the port. I can assure you that those are not FEMA containers. Those are retail goods that have probably been sitting there for days or weeks.”
“FEMA containers and commodities are going and have been received at regional distribution centers,” Kaniewski continued. “Those regional distribution centers then distribute it to the 78 municipalities” that make up Puerto Rico.
The Washington Post similarly reported on Thursday that some of those containers sitting in port were filled with commercial goods for stores such as Home Depot and Walgreens. Jose Ayala, vice president for Puerto Rico services at the Crowley shipping company, told the paper that post-Hurricane Maria, “there is damage to the trucking infrastructure” that normally moves the goods from the port to supermarkets and stores.
FEMA’s claims stand in stark contrast, however, with what CBS reported on Wednesday. The media outlet said that it had found 3,000 shipping containers sitting in the port with enough supplies to help half a million of the 3.5 million Puerto Ricans desperate for relief more than a week after Maria hit.
And CNN reported that Ayala estimated at least 10,000 containers of supplies ― including food, water and medicine ― were lingering at the docks.
Rosselló said supplies in the port have not been distributed because there is no way to contact truck drivers to help deliver the aid. Many roads and highways remain blocked or damaged.
“The bus drivers are either caught in their houses [or] their buses have been destroyed,” Rosselló told CBS reporter David Begnaud. “We have not reached communication so that they can know that we’ve released all of the red tapes.”
On Thursday, the Pentagon appointed Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan to lead recovery efforts in Puerto Rico. It had previously allocated 4,000 troops to the effort. By Friday morning, Buchanan told CNN that the number of troops and equipment was “not enough” and said he planned to bring in “both Air Force, Navy, and Army medical capabilities in addition to aircraft, more helicopters.”
Kaniewski also told CNN that two additional airports, one in Ceiba and the other in Aguadilla, had been opened up to facilitate relief efforts. He acknowledged that the process of distributing FEMA supplies and aid had been slow, but he expected it to improve in the coming days.
“That process is working, albeit slow, and not really as fast as any of us would like. That said, we expect significant improvement in operations with additional power being on the ground both with the military and civilian side,” Kaniewski said. “And we look forward to distributing those commodities to those in need at a much greater pace in the days ahead.”