Hurricane Maria slammed into the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico Sept. 20, bringing with it wind gusts of 113 mph and torrential rains. The hurricane utterly destroyed the island. Infrastructure was swept away, communication was lost, damaged agriculture will take years to regrow and lives were lost.
The general public is aware that Hurricane Maria left Puerto Rico in dismal shape, but just how many casualties occurred is currently up for debate.
On Dec. 29, the Department of Public Safety had claimed that 64 deaths had occurred as a result of Hurricane Maria. Reports from agencies including CNN and The New York Times give very different reports. CNN’s official number is 499, the Center for Investigative Journalism puts it at 985 and The New York Times compiled data that estimates 1,052 died as a result of Hurricane Maria.
The New York Times’ report looked into the 42 days following Sept. 20 and found that 1,052 more deaths than average occurred. The count of 64 is believed to be the number of people who were killed when the hurricane made landfall.
The New York Times cites that the deadliest day for Puerto Rico was Sept. 25, the day Ricardo A. Rosselló, governor of Puerto Rico, called on Congress for aid to prevent a humanitarian crisis. President Donald Trump responded with a Tweet.
“Texas & Florida are doing great but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble,” Trump tweeted.
That same day; with temperatures over 90 degrees, no electricity, overrun hospitals and many people with no access to clean water; 135 people died in Puerto Rico.
Unfortunately, even today, 45 percent of Puerto Ricans are still living without power. The figure was released Dec. 29 and indicates that 1.5 million people have been without electricity for over 100 days and counting.
“We understand how difficult it has been for the people for Puerto Rico who have been without power for so long,” said Rosselló in a statement on Dec. 29. He also made a request for 1,500 more restoration workers from the United States’ electric industry.
Officials said the delay in power restoration has been due to the large scale and complexity of the damage the island sustained from Hurricane Maria. Of course, the news that it could be months more before power is completely restored raises the question—What is the United States doing to help Puerto Ricans, all of whom are U.S. citizens?
Congress approved a $5 billion aid package on Oct. 26 meant to assist Puerto Rico’s central government and various districts dealing with a funding crisis. Then the House passed the long-contested tax reform bill in November that will put a 20 percent import tax on products manufactured in foreign jurisdictions, which includes Puerto Rico. Analysts believe this move could cost Puerto Ricans up to 200,000 jobs.
General public support for Puerto Ricans has been heartening, but now it’s up to the Trump administration and Congress to provide support to the 3.68 million Americans on the island of Puerto Rico.