Donald Trump is bragging that relief efforts in Puerto Rico are going great because only 16 people have died since the storm. He’s totally wrong about the death toll. And his words will come back to bite him.
Donald Trump made a visit to Puerto Rico on Tuesday and spent a lot of time congratulating himself on the “A plus” job he’s done so far in the relief efforts. He claimed that only 16 people have died on the island since the storm, proving that everything’s going great.
“If you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina and you look at the tremendous hundreds and hundreds of people that died, and what happened here with a storm that was just totally over bearing. No one has ever seen anything like that. What is your death count? … Sixteen people versus in the thousands. You can be very proud of all of your people and all of our people working together. Sixteen versus literally thousands of people. You can be very proud. Everyone around this table and everyone watching can be very proud of what’s taking place in Puerto Rico.”
But Trump’s number is not accurate.
Omaya Sosa Pascual is a reporter in San Juan with the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI). Because she believed that the government’s figure of 16 was far too low, Pascual began calling hospitals and morgues across the island to ask about storm-related deaths.
“Pascual spoke to dozens of doctors, administrators, morgue directors, and funeral directors around the country, and wrote up her initial findings in a September 28 report in the Miami Herald. She then got Puerto Rico’s public safety secretary to confirm Monday that there have been dozens more deaths than the official statistic reflects. By her count, there are now an estimated 60 confirmed deaths linked to the hurricane and possibly hundreds more to come.”
One reason that the official number is wrong is because there has been so much devastation and chaos in Puerto Rico since the storm that death certificates are not being signed. And the figure of 16 hasn’t been updated in the last seven days.
“Everything in the government has collapsed. Some of the people who work in the government lost their homes themselves and aren’t at work. So they can’t do death certificates. The dead can’t be documented because of all the logistics and legal aspects of declaring someone dead. Not being able to document it doesn’t mean it’s not happening.”
Pascual explained that in her investigation she was told that “the dead are at the hospital morgues, which are at capacity and in remote places where the government has yet to go. In many cases, families are unaware of the deaths.”
And other reporters are collecting data as well. Molly Hennessy-Fiske, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, wrote from a shelter in the Lajas region,
“About 100 people died in the three days after the storm in the Lajas region, twice the typical rate, according to a local funeral director. Eight elderly people have died in Lajas since the storm, at least one directly related to a shortage of medical supplies.
“We don’t know if they didn’t have enough medicine, or oxygen — all of them were without electricity after the hurricane,” said funeral director Francisco Velez.”
It’s hard to imagine that the Trump administration isn’t fully aware that they are giving an inaccurate death count. But it’s easy to assume that they are doing it to try to make their botched response look a little better.
Trump has spent days bragging about the number 16. But that number is certain to rise significantly. So whatever he thinks he’s gaining by lying about it now will be short-lived. His words will most definitely come back to haunt him.
On Tuesday night Puerto Rico updated the official death toll to 34.