On Sept. 20, 2017, the tenth-most intense Atlantic hurricane on record made landfall as a Category 5 storm to the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, destroying approximately 80% of the island and leaving 100% of citizens powerless and in the wake of an utter disaster.
The death toll, in Hurricane Maria’s aftermath, was officiated at an estimated 2,975, with some still unaccounted for. Water and food shortages ran rampant, hospitals were closed due to damage and other services were unavailable to citizens. And after a year of being in devastation, Puerto Rico citizens are still suffering tragic effects and mourning loved ones.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the agency responsible for helping communities prepare for worst-case scenario disaster situations and responding places that were affected, fell short in their efforts to heal Puerto Rico. This was even highlighted in a report by the Government Accountability Office, who outlined FEMA’s flaws in their response, including how half of the workers sent to aid were unqualified and that the organization completely failed to take into account the island’s 50-year-old infrastructure.
Ultimately, FEMA, whose job is to help communities prepare for the worst, were notably unprepared for this situation.
Our president, Donald Trump, however, chooses to ignore all of these realities.
During an Oval Office briefing with the subject of Hurricane Florence on Tuesday, Trump praised his efforts by saying, “I think Puerto Rico was incredibly successful. Puerto Rico was actually our toughest one of all because it’s an island. You can’t truck things onto it. Everything is by boat,” continuing with, “The job that FEMA and law enforcement and everybody did, working along with the governor in Puerto Rico, I think, was tremendous. I think that Puerto Rico was an incredible, unsung success.”
To the citizens of Puerto Rico, whose lives have been forever changed by mass death and unfathomable destruction, and who have been let down by unprepared agencies and meek efforts, it was, in no way, an “incredible, unsung success.”
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, whose rocky relationship with Trump has been no secret, was quick to comment. In speaking with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, she said, “The President keeps adding insult to injury and I think his words are despicable. […] They really do not have any connection with reality. It just shows that for him, everything is about him and political posturing. The man has no idea, he has no solidarity, no sympathy, no empathy for anything that does not make him look good.”
To make matters worse, Trump took to Twitter to publicly deny the official death toll newly updated in Puerto Rico through a study conducted by George Washington University researchers.
Of course, the original death toll of 16 people given to him directly following the hurricane did not account, at all, for the mass deaths that would ensue after living in a nightmarish reality of no resources and hardly any help from the government.
Perhaps Trump would know this if he had been actually paying attention to the aftermath of Hurricane Maria at all.
But it’s hardly any surprise that the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico has been treated drastically worse than states, seen in efforts of the recent Hurricane Florence that hit the Carolinas this past week.
The disaster of Hurricane Maria shed a light on a problem that has existed throughout American history. As Time words it, “Despite being part of one of the richest countries in the world, nearly half of Puerto Ricans live in poverty, compared to the national U.S. average of 12.7%.” The territory now has a crippling $70+ billion in debt.
And while it may be news to many Americans, Puerto Ricans have been fighting for their human rights for a while now, begging their lawmakers to address the effects that climate change has had and will continue to have on their island. Not only have they been ignored — as reported by Amnesty International — authorities responded to these demonstrators with excessive and unnecessary violence.
They’re not alone in fearing for climate change, though their incentive is more intense. But Donald Trump is known for denying the scientific evidence of the environmental phenomenon that threatens to alter the world as we know it. Efforts to aid places like Puerto Rico, especially during hurricane season, by acting on climate change is wishful thinking, so long as Trump is president.
All this just proves what we already knew; Donald Trump is in utter denial of the realities of the country he leads, and so long as he keeps turning a blind eye towards the needs of his citizens, these adversities will just continue.
Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images