On Tuesday, researchers at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University released the results of a study commissioned by Puerto Rico.
The independent assessment sought to “accurately estimate the excess number of deaths due to Hurricane María” and as it turns out, the official death toll was just a bit off. Specifically, the U.S. territory’s official count was 64 prior to the study and now, that official tally is 2,975.
Here are a couple of useful excerpts from the researchers who described their methodology and findings in a 69-page report embedded in full below this post:
We estimate that in mid-September 2017 there were 3,327,917 inhabitants and in mid-February 2018 there were 3,048,173 inhabitants of Puerto Rico, representing a population reduction by approximately 8%. We factored this into the migration “displacement scenario” and compared it with a “census scenario,” which assumed no displacement from migration in the hurricane’s aftermath. We found that, historically, mortality slowly decreased until August 2017, and that rates increased for the period of September 2017 through February 2018, with the most dramatic increase shown in the displacement scenario accounting for post-hurricane migration.
Total excess mortality post-hurricane using the migration displacement scenario is estimated to be 2,975 (95% CI: 2,658-3,290) for the total study period of September 2017 through February 2018.
“We never anticipated a scenario of zero communication, zero energy, zero highway access,” Gov. Ricardo Rossello told reporters, by way of explanation. “I think the lesson is to anticipate the worst. … Yes, I made mistakes. Yes, in hindsight, things could’ve been handled differently”, he added.
Yes, “things could’ve been handled differently”, especially by the Trump administration which came under all manner of fire last year for its gross mismanagement of the crisis.
This President doesn’t do well when faced with adversity and Hurricane María was one of the more outlandish examples of Trump somehow managing to make a situation that by all rights couldn’t get any worse, far worse.
At one point, Trump ended up in an extremely contentious Twitter dispute with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, who the President accused of conspiring against him at the behest of Washington Democrats.
“The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump”, the President tweeted, on September 30, before going on to accuse Puerto Ricans of being lazy freeloaders. “Others in Puerto Rico can’t get their workers to help”, Trump said, before delivering one more low blow as follows: “They want everything to be done for them.”
That was hardly the end of it. On October 1, Trump tried to make amends, but came up woefully short because as it turns out, golf trophies weren’t what the hurricane-ravaged island needed following the storm.
President Trump dedicates Presidents Cup golf tournament trophy to those affected by hurricanes https://t.co/rDmO0T39II
— NBC News (@NBCNews) October 1, 2017
Two days later, Trump showed up in Puerto Rico and his first order of business was to let the locals know that their suffering was making it more difficult for him to advance his fiscal policy agenda.
President Trump: “I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack” https://t.co/nDSnQPbfdq (fixes typo)
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) October 3, 2017
Later, that day, he threw paper towels at everybody.
Believe it or not, things got worse from there.
Less than a week after the power towel debacle, Trump took to Twitter to explain that while his administration was happy to help for a couple of weeks, there was a limit to his generosity. “We cannot keep FEMA, the military and the first responders in P.R. forever!”, the President tweeted, on October 10.
Ultimately, Trump said, the bungled rescue effort could be chalked up to one simple fact: “Puerto Rico is an island, surrounded by big water”.
Given all of the above, you can understand why some folks are still angry at the Trump administration when it comes to the hurricane relief effort.
So in light of the George Washington study mentioned here at the outset, you might be wondering whether the President is prepared to change his assessment of how the administration handled things. In other words, now that the official death toll has been revised higher from five dozen to 250 dozen, is Trump prepared to admit that things didn’t go well?
Here’s your answer:
Trump: "I think we did a fantastic job in Puerto Rico. We're still helping Puerto Rico. The governor is an excellent guy and he's very happy with the job we've done… I think most of the people in Puerto Rico really appreciate what we've done." pic.twitter.com/LjfTiObzSd
— NBC Politics (@NBCPolitics) August 29, 2018
There you go. Trump thinks he did “a fantastic job” and everyone on the island really appreciates it.
For her part, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz disagrees. Asked on Wednesday about the new report and Trump’s refusal to admit that mistakes were made even when the evidence is staring him straight in the face, she said this:
These deaths will follow him wherever he goes for the rest of his life.
With all due respect to the Mayor, I think she’s overestimating Trump’s capacity to feel guilt.