Just when you think you’ve heard it all, you haven’t. Donald Trump has actually found a way to make the death toll from a devastating hurricane about himself.
Hurricane Maria, a category four tropical hurricane, left more than three million American citizens without power and many families grieving for their loved ones. The Puerto Rican government recently released new death toll statistics after being criticized for underrepresenting the effects of Hurricane Maria and revealed that almost 3,000 American citizens died as a result of the hurricane.
This new and more accurate estimate of the deaths caused by Hurricane Maria was released less than a month after George Washington University released a study estimating that nearly 2,975people died as a result of the hurricane. Additionally, last year, a Harvard study estimated that there were 4,645 additional deaths during the period following Hurricane Maria in 2017.
It is important that we do not view these statistics just as numbers. These were people. Thousands of people. This very real human toll often gets lost in the realm of politics. These studies tell us one thing for certain: The impact of this tragedy is not to be taken lightly.
“3,000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico,” tweeted President Trump on Thursday, Sept. 13. “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…”
Let that sink in. The President of the United States is diminishing the impact of a deadly natural disaster to make himself look better. Not only is Trump incorrect in his claims that the number of people killed by the impact of Hurricane Maria had not risen much since he left, he is insulting the three million American citizens who have had to endure destruction of their homes, months without power and most horrendously, loss of their loved ones.
In the wake of Trump’s cold tweets, I had the opportunity to talk to two freshmen students, Mariela Ocasio Lizardi and Carina Gobaira Muniz, who came to the University of Connecticut because of the devastating effects of the hurricane on Puerto Rican universities. We discussed the impact of Hurricane Maria on their lives and communities.
“There’s still people who are being affected from it,” Ocasio Lizardi, who moved to Connecticut from Isla Verde, Puerto Rico, explains.
Gobaira Muniz, who lived in Caguas, Puerto Rico before coming to UConn, states that in addition to many Puerto Ricans still being without power, “A year has passed since the hurricane and there are still 60,000 blue tarps in ceilings. There’s still people without ceilings in their houses.” What many people fail to recognize about natural disasters such as hurricanes is that the trauma and damage do not end after a few months. Recovery is an extremely long and tiresome process.
Trump’s misconduct in responding to Hurricane Maria goes farther than his insensitive twitter remarks. When I asked Ocasio Lizardi and Gobaira Muniz about Trump’s visit to Puerto Rico and what they think about the way the American government responded to the natural disaster, Ocasio Lizardi said Donald Trump treated the Puerto Rican people “like we were animals” by “throwing paper towels, rice and supplies” at people.
Gobaira Muniz had shut off all electronics in her house to use her generator to watch the coverage of the President’s visit with her family and was disappointed that he didn’t even give a speech addressing the people of Puerto Rico. Ocasio Lizardi and Gobaira Muniz also criticized the President for visiting only San Juan, the island’s capital, a major tourist area that was already in the process of being re-established. He did not visit the rural communities that were in the most dire need of resources.
The president was also quick to assign false blame to his political opponents for inflating the Hurricane Maria death toll statistics, despite the fact that they were issued by a respected university, followed by similar statistics from the Puerto Rican government.
“If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them to the list,” Trump ignorantly tweeted about the Puerto Rican death toll. The Puerto Rican governor stated last week that there is “no doubt there are 3,000 deaths as a result of Hurricane Maria,” refuting Trump’s insensitive claims of death toll inflation.
The biggest message I took away from my conversation with Ocasio Lizardi and Gobaira Muniz was their incredible outlook on life now. They both agreed that the hurricane had opened their eyes to the magic of things they used to take for granted, like calling their relatives. They also cited countless examples of Puerto Rican people reaching out to help each other. Gobaira Muniz and her family once invited the whole street to eat dinner at her house. These are the important perspectives of human tragedy and loss to remember; instead of the self-serving propaganda being tweeted by the President.
Maggie McGuire is a contributor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.