FEMA Official Says Bottled Water In Puerto Rico Was Moved To Runway To Save Money

A senior official at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) says millions of bottles of water were moved onto a runway in Puerto Rico in January as a cost-saving measure as regular water service was restored to the island in the months after Hurricane Maria.

Marty Bahamonde, director of disaster operations for FEMA’s Office of External Affairs, said in an interview Thursday that the agency had been storing the water in more than 1,100 containers on the island at a cost of about $300,000 per day before moving the supplies outdoors in January.

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“FEMA put that water out on that airstrip for the purpose of getting it out of containers, so that there would be no cost to us and no cost to the taxpayer,” he said, echoing comments made by FEMA deputy administrator Daniel Kaniewski on “CBS This Morning” on Thursday. “In hindsight, it saved us tens of millions of dollars.”

Photos of dozens of pallets of bottled water sitting on the runway emerged this week and raised fresh questions about the federal government’s handling in the aftermath of Maria, which devastated the island and was responsible for nearly 3,000 deaths. President Trump defended his administration’s response earlier this week, calling it an “unsung success.” He cast doubt on the official death toll in tweets on Thursday.

A photograph, taken Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, of the stockpiled water in Ceiba, Puerto Rico.

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