Yesterday, President Donald Trump tweeted that hurricanes Irma and Maria did not kill 3,000 Puerto Ricans. The assertion runs contrary to recent findings announced by Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rossello.
“This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible when I was successfully raising Billions of Dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico,” the president said on Twitter. “If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list. Bad politics. I love Puerto Rico!”
Jose Dueño, S.J., and I reported from Puerto Rico last November, less than two months after the hurricanes. We met José Luis Vázquez, who lives in the mountainous village of Las Marías. Some of his neighbors died when mudslides swept away their homes.
We accompanied Father Carlos Francis Mendez, the pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, which serves the area. It was undoubtedly a small sample. There are only so many people with whom you can speak in a two-week period, but we knew the death count was much higher than 64, which was the official tally for months after the storm.
We heard stories about people who died in connection to the hurricanes, like one man whose tractor fell over a cliff while he was trying to clear away trees from a mountaintop road. Debris isolated remote towns for weeks. The island went without clean water and electricity for months, increasing the risks of disease and endangering hospital patients and nursing-home residents. How many died in those days? We heard stories about people near the coast, cast into the sea by hurricanes, never to be seen again.
Right now, the United States is being hit again by another storm. The nation has set its sights on those suffering through Hurricane Florence. But we should also remember those thousands who died in Puerto Rico last year.
See our full coverage, including an award-winning series of short documentaries produced by Mr. Dueño.