On Sept. 6, 2017, Hurricane Irma hit Puerto Rico and on Sept. 20, Hurricane Maria made landfall; now after more than a year, Puerto Rico’s future still looks bleak. According to CNN, in the immediate aftermath of the hurricanes the official death toll was 64. The governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosselló, raised that number to 2,975 in August due to evidence from a study conducted by George Washington University (GWU).
The GWU study went on to state that most of the nearly 3,000 deaths occurred after the hurricane. CNN reported that Puerto Rico’s power grid was down for several months after the hurricanes which hindered life-saving dialysis and breathing machines; this explains why many of the people who died from the storms were elderly.
In addition to problems with power, officials within the government have criticised FEMA’s response to the hurricanes. According to The New York Times, FEMA paid Tiffany Brown, the owner and only employee of Tribute Contracting, LLC for 30 million meals and she delivered 50,000. The Associated Press also reported that FEMA gave a $30 million contract to Bronze Star, LLC, a newly established company that never had a government contract before. Bronze Star never delivered these urgently needed supplies, and four weeks later FEMA had to look for another contractor.
Despite these inefficiencies and the GWU study, President Donald Trump maintains that the death toll is much lower than that accepted by Rosselló and continues to tout his response. On Sept. 13, Trump tweeted that “3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico. When I left the Island, after the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths.” He went on to tweet that the revised death total was made up by Democrats to discredit him.
During an interview with CNN, Rosselló criticised Trump for his response to the hurricanes and his denial of the death toll, stating that “being an American territory and being second class citizens is playing a huge role [in the response to the hurricane].” The mayor of San Juan, Carmen Cruz, also stated that Hurricane Irma is Trump’s Katrina according to CNN.
Trump is also receiving bipartisan criticism for his comments on the mainland of the United States. CNN reported that Paul Ryan (R-WI), Speaker of the House, stated that there was no reason to deny the death toll. Rick Scott (R-FL), governor of Florida, also publicly disagreed with the president, restating that the revised numbers are correct. Criticism of the administration’s handling of the disaster has also mounted because of the devastation that Puerto Rico still faces today. CBSN reports that even though water and power are restored to over 99% of the population the island’s economic output has fallen by 13.3%. In addition to a fall in production 245 of Puerto Rico’s 1,100 public schools have closed according to CBSN. Puerto Rico is also mired in debt totaling over $50 billion while still recovering from the hurricanes, which destroyed an estimated $80 billion worth of property as reported by CBSN.