Mother Nature, and not Donald J. Trump, was responsible for the horrors that wracked Puerto Rico last year. But we now know that the President’s instant orgy of self-congratulation about a federal hurricane response he graded a perfect 10 concealed the true extent of the damage.
And that may well have contributed to the carnage by diminishing the sense of urgency in the rescue and recovery operations.
A Harvard study out this week surveyed 3,300 randomly chosen households across the island to produce an independent estimate of casualties caused by Hurricane Maria from Sept. 20, when the storm made landfall, through year’s end: 4,645 souls, the plurality due to delayed or interrupted medical care. And the researchers who crunched the numbers call this figure conservative, given statistical quirks.
The official government death toll is 64. It’s a vast lowball, as experts and independent media analysts have long been insisting, due to the arcane and restrictive way Puerto Rico reports and certifies natural-disaster related fatalities.
Trump, who scoffs at government data when it doesn’t suit his purposes (see: illegal voting totals), bought the double-digit fatality total hook, line and sinker.
On his visit to Puerto Rico in early October, when who knows how many lives hung in the balance, Trump said the island’s condition was nothing like “a real catastrophe like (Hurricane) Katrina,” with “the tremendous hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died.”
(Katrina’s death total in Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi was 1,800.)
Trump, tossing paper towels, went on to tout what was at that point the formal figure, 16, “versus literally thousands of people,” telling federal and local personnel gathered “everybody around this table and everybody watching can really be very proud of what’s taken place in Puerto Rico.”
That, even though authorities took months to get the island’s power infrastructure, which had been frayed before the storm and was torn apart after it, mostly back online.
That, even though critics were in real time assailing the Trump administration for being sluggish to move military assets to Puerto Rican ports — just 7,200 U.S. armed forces personnel had arrived two weeks after the storm, versus 22,000 in Haiti after its earthquake — a fateful decision that delayed the arrival of important assets.
The number of meal kits, water and workers sent in the days after the storm paled in comparison to those that flooded the zone in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina.