The United States’ deadliest hurricanes have killed most of their victims with powerful winds and flooding in the hours and days immediately before and after landfall. The National Hurricane Center says that when Katrina struck Louisiana and other states in 2005 it caused 1,500 direct deaths and 300 indirect ones from causes like heart attacks and failed medical equipment.
Largely due to decades of neglect and years of fiscal crisis, the Puerto Rican electrical grid collapsed into the United States’ longest-ever blackout after Maria hit on Sept. 20, 2017. That spawned a long and deadly tail for the storm, with hundreds of deaths coming long after the first weeks, as medical equipment failed and sick people weakened in the suffocating heat.
Researchers from George Washington University hired by Puerto Rico’s government estimated last month that 2,975 people had died because of Maria in the six months after landfall, a number Puerto Rico accepted as official.
Though President Trump continued to assert this week that his administration’s efforts in Puerto Rico were “incredibly successful,” both the local and federal governments have been heavily criticized for inadequate planning and post-storm response. The GWU report found that Puerto Rico had no plan for communication with its citizens in a crisis. The Center for Investigative Journalism found in May that the island’s health department had no emergency-response plan for hospitals and other medical facilities.
As for the Trump administration, more than half of federal emergency personnel in Puerto Rico were not qualified for their assigned tasks as of October 2017, a month after landfall, according to a Sept. 5 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
An after-action report by FEMA found it had underestimated the food and fresh water needed, and how hard it would be to get supplies to the island. Puerto Rico was understocked in part because Hurricane Irma had struck two weeks before Maria, battering the U.S. Virgin Islands. Staff was depleted because of wildfires and other major natural disasters.
On Oct. 19, Trump said he graded the federal response to Maria as an “A-plus” and a 10 out of 10.
“We have done a really great job,” he said. (AFP)