Nearly a year after hurricanes Maria and Irma, Puerto Rican officials revised the death toll from 64 to 2,975. President Donald Trump immediately dismissed this as false. To deny the hurricanes as the cause of death of nearly 3,000 brown Americans is to deny the government’s failure to its citizens.
Trump claimed in a tweet that deaths unrelated to the hurricane were added to this figure and conspired that this was the Democratic Party’s attempt to undermine his “relief efforts.”
The death toll not only includes the number of people who died during the initial impact of the hurricanes, it includes those who died in the aftermath.
A study done by George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health explained how the death toll was calculated. Their research was reviewed by a “panel of national and international experts,” and they found that any natural death not caused by the hurricane was not included in the official number.
Some individuals in this statistic did die of natural causes, such as sickness, but this was a result of the lack of resources on the island after the hurricanes. For example, all of the patients in an intensive care unit died a few weeks after the hurricanes because there was no electricity to power the hospital. The hurricanes did not directly kill them but left them in conditions that made it difficult, and ultimately impossible, for them to survive. As such, it is appropriate to include them in the death toll.
I traveled to Puerto Rico last November with Professor Alaí Reyes-Santos and two other students to provide food, water filtration systems, baby products and menstrual hygiene products. We also documented the stories of the people affected by the hurricanes.
During our trip, we saw that much of the island still did not have electricity, and residents had little access to food, water and medicine. Almost everyone we interviewed said that government aid had been minimal or nonexistent, especially in rural regions where roads and bridges were destroyed.
Some people in these regions said that government aid could not reach them because of the damaged transportation routes. Our delegation was able to travel through the mountainous paths on a Toyota Rav 4 and a Jeep, so it’s hard to understand how military vehicles could not reach these families who had been stranded for weeks.
Due to the lack of government funds, the Puerto Rican community came together to clear the roads and cook for and look after one another. Various organizations gathered and distributed supplies to the regions that were the most inaccessible; however, these organizations did not have enough resources for everyone who needed help.
Brown American citizens are struggling to survive while Trump is gloating that, “Puerto Rico is an incredible, unsung success.” Whatever he did, it wasn’t enough.
In addition to his disrespectful comments, Trump moved $10 million from FEMA and filtered that money into the budget for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. He took away from organizations that could help save brown lives and gave it to an organization that separates brown families and puts brown children in cages.