The White House is being tested on its response to Hurricane Florence, which made landfall in the Carolinas Sept. 17 with widespread damage. Will the government respond better than it did with Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico? I hope so.
The government of Puerto Rico updated its official estimate to 2,975 deaths from the hurricane and its effects Aug. 28, hours after a George Washington University study estimated the total.
President Donald Trump rejected the estimate in a pair of tweets Sept. 13 which included multiple false claims—including a suggestion that the death toll did not start to increase until much later and that deaths unrelated to the hurricane were added to the tally—and accused Democrats of inflating the number to damage his reputation. Facts prove otherwise.
Researchers who conducted the independent study avoided including deaths that were unrelated to the hurricane to get a more accurate number. Although the initial death toll provided by Puerto Rico’s government was 16 several days after the hurricane’s landfall on Sept. 20, 2017, that number was continuously updated afterward, once the effects of the hurricane were taken into account, including a lack of access to health care and poor living conditions. Other independent organizations also began investigating the number not long after the hurricane hit.
Trump continues to wrongly praise the government’s response to Hurricane Maria even after skepticism and criticism of FEMA’s support for the island after the storm has been affirmed.
A Sept. 4 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that multiple problems including staff shortages and a lack of trained personnel slowed the government’s response, a fact already confirmed by FEMA in July.
Most recently, millions of water bottles delivered by FEMA for victims of the hurricane were photographed on a runway in Ceiba, Puerto Rico. The photo was taken Sept. 11 by a member of the United Forces of Rapid Action agency of the Puerto Rican Police, nearly a year after the storm hit. That same day, Trump called the administration’s response “an incredible, unsung success.”
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz criticized Trump’s comments and said those facing Hurricane Florence could suffer if Trump and his administration make the same mistakes as with Hurricane Maria.
“The world has seen and the majority of the American people have seen how neglectful he was towards the people of Puerto Rico. If he calls a success or an unsung success 3,000 people dying by his watch, definitely he doesn’t know what success is,” Cruz said. “If he thinks this is about him and about politics and about positioning himself, he is going to make the same mistakes and people will die as they did die in Puerto Rico.”
Cruz is exactly right. Trump must recognize the government’s horrible response to Hurricane Maria and admit it must do better if it is going to continue responding to future storms. If failure is not acknowledged, more people will suffer.
Trump continues to deny wrongdoing and spread falsehoods, hypocritically sharing a link to a FEMA “rumor control page” to rebuke fake news about Hurricane Florence. If Trump wants to stop fake news, he should start with himself.
Puerto Ricans continue to suffer because of a lack of government support, and this will continue to happen if action is not taken. If Trump cares enough about his reputation to refute any criticism, he needs to stop giving people reasons to criticize.