Hurricane Maria Death Toll Drastically Increases, Trump Defends US Response

The storm caused $90 billion of damage in Puerto Rico

The storm caused $90 billion of damage in Puerto RicoRAMON ESPINOSA AP

A federal Judge on Thursday denied a request to extend a program that let Puerto Rican people who left their homes after Hurricane Maria stay in hotels.

The findings issued Tuesday by the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University contrast sharply with the official death toll of 64.

Trump told reporters at the White House on Wednesday that his administration did a "fantastic job" helping Puerto Rico recover from Hurricane Maria despite a new report this week that pegged the death toll from that storm at almost 3,000 people, almost double earlier estimates and far more than Puerto Rican government estimates.

"I think we did a fantastic job in Puerto Rico". That figure was then compared to the number of deaths reported from September 2017, when the hurricane hit, to February 2018, when the island still struggled with blackouts and a shortages of essential supplies on the road to recovery.

In addition, the GW researchers analyzed death statistics for age groups, gender and geography. "What can I do?'", said Collazo, executive director of the Defensoría de las Personas con Impedimentos (DPI), a government agency in charge of protecting the rights of the island's disabled.

According to the study, the number of excess deaths is 22 percent higher than what would be expected had the hurricane not hit the island. "We saw tragedies unfold and we saw many, many people served, the Gospel being shared and Christ being honored".

"Puerto Rico was actually more hard because of the fact it was an island", he said.

Carmen Yulín Cruz, the Democrat mayor of San Juan, got into a verbal spat with President Trump over his response to the crisis, which she said deserved "a 10 out of a scale of 100".

"The administration killed the Puerto Ricans with neglect", she added. "I make mistakes. Now, hindsight tends to be 20-20". A separate investigation by The New York Times found 1,052 lives lost.

A study by Harvard University earlier this year estimated around 4,600 had died in the three months following the storm.

Ten days after the hurricane made landfall, Trump lambasted news reports about the troubled situation in Puerto Rico in a series of tweets. Interviews at the governor's central communications office revealed there was no written plan in case of a disaster.

Mr Rosselló made the comments to journalists following the announcement that the official death toll had been revised from 64 to 2,975 following efforts by activists and journalists to demonstrate that the impact had been far greater than originally anticipated.

Instructional materials about death certification did not tell providers how to handle deaths in the event of a disaster.

While the immediate threats the hurricane provided, such as flooding and high winds, led to significant damage, the after effects, including lack of relief supplies, drinking water and electricity, is a factor in the hurricane-related deaths.

Santos-Burgoa said the high death toll, ranking Maria among the worst natural disasters in USA history, was evidence that "we lack a culture of preparedness".

"I did was I thought ought to be done as I screamed, literally, out of the top of my lungs to say "We're dying here" and the bureaucracy and the inefficiency of the federal government was killing us".

The president was at the White House on Wednesday announcing a grant for drug-free communities when reporters asked him about aid for Puerto Rico. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

This article was reprinted from khn.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

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