Puerto Rico’s Hurricane Maria’s anniversary is coming up and it’s taken nearly a year for the official death toll to be revised. Just this week governor Ricardo Roselló released the latest update on the natural disaster’s death count. It’s insane that this has taken so long.
Initially we were told it was 16. Shortly after we were told it was 64. But the island was forced to give real numbers after Harvard estimated 4,645. Now a study commissioned by Roselló’s administration has revealed that 2,975 died as a result of the hurricane, proving what many Puerto Ricans have said all along. Meanwhile, this is still an average—meaning there could have and most likely were more deaths.
Roselló confirmed that the majority of the Puerto Ricans that died from the hurricane were from the island’s poorer neighborhoods. The updated death toll makes Hurricane Maria, the deadliest hurricane to hit the U.S. since 1990.
San Juan’s Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto has a lot of thoughts on why the island took so long in revealing these numbers.
“Very early, the governor jumped onto the bandwagon of, “Yes, Mr. President, thank you very much for everything you have done,” when it was evident that the Trump administration wasn’t doing what it was supposed to,” she told Marie Claire in a recent interview. “I’ll give you a very simple example and it’s almost embarrassing to have to look at a president from this stand point—but President Donald Trump has not tweeted about Puerto Rico since October 2017. Upon hearing of these 4,645 souls that will never again see the light of day, he hasn’t even said, ‘I mourn for the people of Puerto Rico.’ It’s just a tweet—he didn’t have to acknowledge the number of deaths. He could have said, ‘No matter how many, one life is too many.’ That’s it. The President is not involved; our lives, are not on the radar for him.”
Soto believes that the island stalled in updating the death toll because they knew if they released it, they would have been obligated to demand help from the U.S.
“In [revising the death toll], the Puerto Rican government would have to admit we didn’t ask for everything needed, they didn’t raise hell when they were supposed to, they didn’t have the dignity and the lives of the Puerto Rican people at the forefront, and they were thinking politically, as the governor wants to become a state of the United States. And he continues to refuse to tell the world that this ended up being—willingly or unwillingly—a massive cleaning of the Puerto Rican people,” she says. “When I said, ‘If this continues the amount of deaths is going to be such that it will be something similar to genocide.’ It was heavily criticized, and look, I wish I had been wrong. I would give many things to be wrong. I don’t think the governor is a bad person; I think he’s a bad governor because he does not put the good of the people above the political.”
Soto brings up a very important point. Had an accurate number been released, the U.S government— who completely failed Puerto Rico would have been forced to offer much more federal aide. They would have had to offer a lot more food, supplies, medical supplies and more to the island. But because an accurate number wasn’t released, they got away with doing the bare minimum. While this island severely suffered, the U.S. pretty much took a blind eye and refused to acknowledge what was happening. Releasing an accurate number could have saved thousands of Puerto Ricans lives and that is the most devastating reality to come out of this.