Government changes Hurricane Maria’s official death toll; political polarization follows

Graphic by Maria Nevada

Will Patterson

Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017—one year ago. The storm’s devastating impact is still being dealt with on the island, but back in Washington D.C. the truth is still being debated.

First, Maria’s damage must be fully recognized. Thousands of Puerto Ricans went without power for long periods of time—sometimes even months—because of damage caused by the hurricane. According to Newsweek, the post-hurricane blackout became the largest blackout in American history and the second largest blackout of all time.

Throughout the struggle to restore Puerto Rico’s electricity and infrastructure, critics claimed that the United States’ response was lacking. Most pointed to the fact that Puerto Rico isn’t a high priority for the United States, despite being an American territory.

The government released an official death toll in the wake of Hurricane Maria, and it was a shockingly low 64 deaths. There was an almost immediate outcry against the low numbers, but only recently were the numbers adjusted to a more accurate estimate. According to CNN, the new death toll is 2,975—46 times the previous count.

This adjustment should have been a victory for advocates seeking justice for Puerto Rico. However, Washington D.C. has ensured that this change will become a polarizing, political firestorm. Following the changes, President Donald Trump began tweeting about how the numbers were being falsified to make him look bad.

We’ve already seen that writing an article every time Trump says or tweets something misleading (or an outright lie) doesn’t have much impact. With that said, this incident should be on everyone’s radar. Puerto Rico is a part of the United States of America, and the president is more upset with his appearance than the thousands of lives lost during a natural disaster.

The United States have become intensely polarized, but we cannot allow a death toll to become something that is debated and ultimately dismissed. The government failed the people of Puerto Rico and something must be done before the next massive tropical storm rocks the island. There must be a stronger response from the mainland.