Puerto Rico: The real death toll
We now know that Hurricane Maria’s assault on Puerto Rico was one of the most “destructive natural disasters in recent American history,” said Vann Newkirk II in TheAtlantic.com. Virtually everyone knew that the official tally of 64 dead in the U.S. territory “was a massive undercount.” But a recently published study by public health researchers at Harvard University puts the death toll of last year’s hurricane at more than 70 times that figure. Researchers estimate that roughly 4,600 people died as a result of the storm, one-third of them due to lack of medical services. By comparison, the official death toll for Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was just over 1,800 people.
President Trump’s “profound failure of leadership and management” contributed to Puerto Rico’s agony, said Jamelle Bouie in Slate.com. The president could have rallied Americans behind the beleaguered island. “Instead, Trump sent every signal that he simply didn’t care.” When it became clear that the government’s belated relief efforts were falling short, Trump responded by blaming the Puerto Ricans for not doing enough to help themselves, and picking a Twitter fight with the mayor of San Juan. Look at how differently Trump responded to Puerto Rico and Houston after Hurricane Harvey, said the Newark, N.J., Star-Ledger in an editorial. The government sent 73 helicopters to Houston within six days, whereas it took more than three weeks to send 70 to Puerto Rico; by then, many people had already died for lack of water, food, and medical care. FEMA quickly approved $142 million in assistance for Harvey victims, compared with $6.2 million for Maria victims. Nine days after Harvey, the feds had 30,000 personnel in Houston, while in the same time period, only 10,000 were sent to Puerto Rico. FEMA waited five days to send a hospital ship to San Juan. Why did the Trump administration treat Puerto Ricans like second-class citizens?
Clearly, we need a congressional investigation into this debacle, said Jennifer Rubin in The Washington Post. When four Americans were killed at a diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, Congress spent years trying to figure out why. Even if the Harvard study’s estimates are too high, it’s clear that hundreds, and more likely thousands, died—some of them needlessly. We need to know what the government could have done differently. “The people of Puerto Rico deserve at least that.”