Heckuva Job, Trumpy: Puerto Rico Death Toll From Hurricane Maria Now 2,975

Culture Wars

The Puerto Rican government on Tuesday officially raised the death toll from Hurricane Maria to 2,975. That's a whopping 4,500 percent increase from the previous estimate of 64. It's still significantly less than the 63,000 Americans Donald Trump claims illegal immigrants have murdered since 9/11 like slasher film killers, but it's also a real number based in observable reality and not the president's racist paranoid fantasies. When you're talking about actual living, breathing human beings who are no longer doing either of those things, it starts to get painful.

The [George Washington University's Milken School of Public Health]report also showed that the risk of dying in the aftermath of Maria was 60 percent higher for those in the poorest communities and 35 percent higher for those aged 65 or older.

"There are huge inequalities in Puerto Rico that were brought up by the hurricane," said Carlos Santos-Burgoa, one of the principal investigators of the study.

The estimate of 2,975 was determined using a mathematical model based on historical patterns, with adjustments made for age and sex, researchers said.

The GWU report took aim at Gov. Ricardo Rossello's administration, stating there was "inadequate preparedness and personnel training for crisis and emergency risk communication." Rossello, for his part, accepts the blame and admits "mistakes" were made. President Trump, who gave himself a "10 out of 10" for the federal government's recovery efforts, has supported Rossello, calling the governor "brilliant" probably because he kisses his orange ass unlike San Juan's mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz.

Maria is now the second deadliest hurricane in more than a century, which is appalling when we consider that back in 1900, when the Galveston hurricane killed more than 10,000 people in hours, these storms just sort of showed up like your deadbeat cousin looking for a place to crash after his girlfriend kicked him out. We're far more advanced now and such a shocking number of fatalities is inexcusable.

Puerto Ricans were without power for 11 months after Trump pitched paper towels at hurricane survivors, and even as late as this month, about 1,000 people were still living like the goddamn Flintstones.

The months without electricity have taken their toll. Diana, a mother of four, no longer takes her digestive medicine because she has nowhere to keep it cool. They eat tinned food – beef, fish and vegetables – which preserves in the humidity, but costs far more. They lug bags of ice up the steep mountainside four times a week to keep it in picnic coolers.

Literally days after Maria bludgeoned Puerto Rico, Trump slimed its government and residents, claiming they "want everything done for them." The obvious racial messaging was obvious, but as Bono says, "Outside is America." Trump's supporters might disagree, but Puerto Rico is America. Yes, Puerto Rico has an ailing infrastructure and resides in hurricane territory. But why wasn't this a priority before Maria? There are no hillbilly elegies for Puerto Rico, and when Trump spoke at his inauguration about the "forgotten man," he likely didn't remember to include Puerto Ricans. Trump's entire schtick is to scare Americans about what brown immigrants might do to young white women. He doesn't give a damn about the continued suffering of brown people in a US territory.

Puerto Rico's population is roughly equal to about 20 US states. If Mississippi, Kansas or especially Connecticut had been without power for almost a year, it would be a major story every day on the 24-hour gasbag roundup. That it hasn't been is shameful. I appreciate that Rossello accepts responsibility for this tragedy, but now we have to focus on making sure this doesn't happen again (acknowledging climate change could help) and keeping the current death toll from rising even more. Even young, healthy Puerto Ricans have died from treatable bacterial diseases while helping clean up post-Maria.

The governor announced the creation of a commission that will start by working off the GWU recommendations to improve public health and safety as well as the creation of a registry of people considered vulnerable to future disasters. Rossello also said the commission would update Puerto Rico's preparedness plans to endure stronger hurricanes.

This is a good start, but citizens on the mainland have a duty to ensure this remains a shared national concern. Meanwhile, Puerto Rico and its people endure because they refuse to accept any other option.

Life had become about adaptation. Their porchway is lined with solar powered bulbs that charge in the sun. They all wake at sunrise to make best use of the daylight. Their fridge – redundant without continuous power – functioned as a bookshelf for 20-year-old Leidianne Ruiz-Vera's college materials. It is stacked full of encyclopedias and books on astrology, art history and geometry that Diana, determined her children succeed in education, has collected over the years.

"I couldn't finish college education because of the fees," said Diana. "But I wanted all my kids to learn and go to school. Even if their home is made of wood and tin, they should be proud of where they came from."

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."


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