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Were thousands of water bottles for Hurricane Maria survivors left to rot in Puerto Rico?

| Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018, 6:30 p.m.
Abdiel Santana posted images to Facebook that purportedly shows hundreds of thousands of water bottles on thousands of pallets on a runway at a former naval base in Ceiba. (Abdiel Santana/Facebook)
Abdiel Santana posted images to Facebook that purportedly shows hundreds of thousands of water bottles on thousands of pallets on a runway at a former naval base in Ceiba. (Abdiel Santana/Facebook)
Abdiel Santana posted images to Facebook that purportedly shows hundreds of thousands of water bottles on thousands of pallets on a runway at a former naval base in Ceiba. (Abdiel Santana/Facebook)
Abdiel Santana posted images to Facebook that purportedly shows hundreds of thousands of water bottles on thousands of pallets on a runway at a former naval base in Ceiba. (Abdiel Santana/Facebook)
Abdiel Santana posted images to Facebook that purportedly shows hundreds of thousands of water bottles on thousands of pallets on a runway at a former naval base in Ceiba. (Abdiel Santana/Facebook)
Abdiel Santana posted images to Facebook that purportedly shows hundreds of thousands of water bottles on thousands of pallets on a runway at a former naval base in Ceiba. (Abdiel Santana/Facebook)

With all eyes on Hurricane Florence, a Facebook post is casting fresh doubts on the federal government’s response last year to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

On Tuesday, Abdiel Santana posted images to Facebook that purportedly show hundreds of thousands of water bottles on thousands of pallets on a runway at a former naval base in Ceiba.

Santana’s images appear to have been taken by drone, and he accompanied them saying, “Although you do not believe it … almost a million boxes of water that were never delivered to the people of PR, before the emergency of Hurricane Maria. Is there anyone who can explain this?”

In the images, the packaged cases of bottles line one end of a long runway — most of them covered by blue tarp.

Santana, who works as a photographer with the Puerto Rican state police, told CBS News he took the photographs because he is frustrated to see them still sitting there.

Angelo Cruz Ramos, mayor of Ceiba, told ABC News he only found out about the water bottles when the images went viral. He said because the base is a restricted zone, he’s not able to get there.

A senior FEMA official told CBS News that “if (FEMA) put that water on that runway there will be hell to pay … If we did that, we’re going to fess up to it.”

FEMA did confirm to both CBS and ABC News that the agency had purchased the water and delivered it to the island’s General Services Administration.

Ramos told ABC he’s not sure how long the bottles have been sitting there, but a report from the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration says FEMA made a delivery of “excess bottled water” in April.

However, the report says, “the Government of Puerto Rico does not have control over the federal land” and was unable to get to the water.

Earlier Tuesday, President Donald Trump had reiterated his praise for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s response. “I think Puerto Rico was an incredible, unsung success,” the president said. “Texas we’ve been given A-pluses for. Florida we’ve been given A-pluses for.”

A recent federal report found that nearly 3,000 people died in Maria’s wake in Puerto Rico, with damages estimated at about $100 billion.

Chris Pastrick is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at 724-226-4697, cpastrick@tribweb.com or via Twitter @CPastrickTrib.

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