President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Friday Sept. 14 to express disbelief about an August study by George Washington University that claims the death toll of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico is now at 2,975, as opposed to the original estimates in the double digits.
Trump’s continued ignorance and disregard for the destruction in Puerto Rico is distasteful and especially troubling as Hurricane Florence ravages the United States. Instead of attempting to salvage his administration’s reputation, Trump should address the death toll and the lackluster reconstruction efforts in Puerto Rico. In this way, Trump would honor those that have lost their lives to Maria’s effects and take responsibility for his own actions.
Trump visited Puerto Rico for the first time 13 days after landfall, according to The Atlantic. Upon his visit, he acted disrespectfully, tossing paper towels to crowds in San Juan and making comments that minimized the hurricane.
“Every death is a horror, but if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina, and you look at the tremendous hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died, and you look at what happened here and what is your death count? Sixteen people, versus in the thousands,” Trump said, according to The Atlantic. “You can be very proud. Sixteen versus literally thousands of people.”
This comment came weeks after the actual landfall when researchers estimated only 16 deaths, but the casualty count has risen considerably. While Trump’s comments are incredibly ignorant and misguided, especially in retrospect, they also discredit the suffering of those in Puerto Rico.
Additionally, for the most part, the U.S. government responded to Maria poorly. Over half of the workers that Federal Emergency Management Agency sent to Puerto Rico were not properly trained, according to CBS News. Homes in Puerto Rico only received power back in August 2018, almost a year after the hurricane hit, according to The New York Times.
The research by G.W.U. that Trump referenced correlated the ever-increasing death toll to the lack of response and preparedness for the storm, according to CBS News.
Trump, however, does not see the government’s response as a problem.
"The job that FEMA and law enforcement and everybody did, working along with the governor in Puerto Rico, I think was tremendous," Trump said on Sept. 11, according to NPR. "I think that Puerto Rico was an incredible, unsung success."
To Trump’s point, FEMA did funnel a large amount of funds into Maria—their largest monetary response—and Hurricane Maria came after Harvey and Irma when FEMA’s resources were already spread thin, according to NPR.
Yet, due to a death toll of nearly 3,000 and a year without power in Puerto Rico, the government’s response was hardly an “unsung success.”
Perhaps a major reason for Trump’s lack of heart is based on the fact that Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory and is distanced from the country, both socially and geographically. Either way, the U.S. government is responsible for its territories which should be given just as much attention as the country itself.
Hurricane Florence made landfall on Sept. 14 and the death toll continues to rise, according to CNN. Rescue missions are taking place as the flooding continues to ravage the affected regions, according to CNN.
As Florence continues to rage and the estimated death toll in Puerto Rico rises, the government must remember what’s important during emergencies: human lives.
Trump’s denial does not do justice to those who died during the storm. Instead of denying all criticism, Trump should absorb it so that those in Puerto Rico can rebuild in peace and the government can respond to natural disasters more effectively in the future.