On September 13th, as the Atlantic coast prepared for Hurricane Florence, President Trump tweeted,
“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. As time went by it did not go up by much. Then, a long time later, they started to report really large numbers, like 3000,”
…..This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible when I was successfully raising Billions of Dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico. If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list. Bad politics. I love Puerto Rico!
The official death toll for Hurricane Maria is based on the difference between the statistically normal number of deaths for September through February, the six months following the hurricane, and the number of deaths during the same six months in 2017-2018.
The “excess deaths” — the number of deaths over the statistically predictable number — amounted to nearly 3,000. While there have been rumors that the Mayor of San Juan has a list of the individuals who died in the aftermath of the hurricane, this is not true. The new official count is not based on individual death reports, but on the total number of deaths reported from September 17, 2017, through February, 2018. The total number is about 2,975 larger than would have been anticipated.
This information came from the research done by George Washington University.
An earlier estimate from a Harvard study published in the New England Journal of Medicine relied on interviews and extrapolation, coming up with a total nearer 4,000. Both studies provided statistical estimates, not counts of deaths.
Responses to the tweets
Reaction to Mr. Trump’s tweets has been strong. Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said, “The victims and the people of Puerto Rico do not deserve to have their pain questioned.”
George Washington University issued a statement denying any political overtones or influences in their work. “This study, commissioned by the Government of Puerto Rico, was carried out with complete independence and freedom from any kind of interference,” they said. “Our results show that Hurricane Maria was a very deadly storm, one that affected the entire island but hit the poor and the elderly the hardest. We are confident that the number – 2,975 – is the most accurate and unbiased estimate of excess mortality to date.”
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said that her own grandfather died in the aftermath of the storm. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) described the tweets as “offensive, hurtful and blatantly false.” Florida Governor Rick Scott expressed disagreement with the president, based on his own visits to Puerto Rico.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said of the new death total, “I have no reason to dispute those numbers… Those are just the facts of what happened.”
The White House, however, said in a statements that “President Trump was responding to the liberal media and the San Juan Mayor who sadly, have tried to exploit the devastation by pushing out a constant stream of misinformation and false accusations.”
“An incredible, unsung success”
President Trump also described the federal response to Hurricane Maria as the “best” disaster response and “an incredible, unsung success.”
A FEMA report on their work in Puerto Rico acknowledged that they were “unprepared,” “understaffed,” and in some cases, “were not physically able to handle the extreme or austere environment of the territories.”
The federal response to Hurricane Maria, which left people across the Island without electricity or safe water for months, has been criticized. President Trump has frequently praised the federal efforts. “It was one of the best jobs that’s ever been done with respect to what this is all about,” he said last week.