Fact Check: How Many People Actually Died in Hurricane Maria?!

"George Bush doesn't care about black people."

That's what Kanye West declared as a criticism to President Bush's response to Hurricane Katrina. He was politicizing a natural disaster to support his partisan beliefs. He's not the first person to do this and he won't be the last.

As Hurricane Florence comes toppling into the Carolinas, many of President Trump's biggest critics have been using this occurrence to hurl insults at Trump over his response to last year's Hurricane in Puerto Rico.

According to some "public health experts", as the Associated Press vaguely referred to them, the death toll from Hurricane Maria was about 3000 people and Trump's response (or lack of a response, as they put it) is the reason this number is so high (more on that later).

But are the critics being totally honest? The evidence is stacked against them. Trump says the death toll number is somewhere between 6 and 18 people and there's a pretty big difference between 6 and 3000, so what's the real answer?

Last month CNN published a report claiming that officials have only released the names of 57 people who died because of Maria. If there are more people out there, this should be an easy question to answer: who are they and how did they die? The family members of the deceased should have no problem proving their loved ones died because of Maria and I'm sure they won't mind telling researchers what happened if they're upset about losing a loved one. That makes sense, right? After all, Puerto Rico is not a third world country. We have records from everyone's death on that island and more than enough medical experts living in PR to help explain how these people passed away.

So the real answer, according to actual fact-based evidence, isn't 6, 18 or 3057 (as Wikipedia claims). It's very likely 57. 

That means both Trump and his critics are probably wrong.

If I'm missing something here, please tell me what that something is, folks. Like many of you, I seriously want to know the answer to the question of how many people died during Maria but I can't rely on hyperbole and sensationalism when I form an opinion. 

Facts matter. They always have. 

Finally, let's address the watermarked elephant in the room: critics are claiming Trump's Federal government didn't do enough to help Puerto Rico during Maria, but is that a fair complaint? The Federal government spent over $16 billion helping to rebuild Puerto Rico, according to a Reuters report from last February, and that's a pretty big pile of cash compared to what hurricane relief normally entails. The entire island of Puerto Rico has about 3 million people. By comparison, Texas, which received about $51 billion in federal aid after Harvey, has approximately 6 million people living in the greater Houston area, plus the population of Corpus Christi (325,000), Beaumont (118,000), Port Arthur and all the smaller coastal towns affected by Harvey. Add all this up, and you have a waaaaay bigger population (and a bigger geographic region - 268,597 mi² vs 3,515 mi²) than what you'll find on the island of Puerto Rico. Now consider that Hurricane Maria happened right after the US territories had just trampled by two other major hurricanes (Jose and Harvey), which greatly depleted our country's emergency resources, and you can see how $16 billion is a pretty big chunk of change for the US to fork over to PR after this disaster. 

It seems weird that I have to remind critics of this, but Puerto Rico is an island. Compared to Florida or Texas, it's very difficult to get to PR. You have to fly, or take a boat. Civilian volunteers like the Cajun Navy can't drive there like they did with Harvey, Maria, Ike, Rita and Jose. If you're comparing the quality of life after a disaster in a place like Puerto Rico VS places like Texas or Florida, you're comparing apples with hand grenades. The circumstances of these disasters greatly differed from one and other, so comparing them side-by-side is futile at best.

Meanwhile, Trump aside, Puerto Rico has internal corruption problems of their own to worry about.  The mayor of Sabana Grande PR and finance officials from another town, Toa Baja, were arrested on corruption charges in July. Their corruption didn't stem from Maria relief; they've been siphoning money from the federal teat since 2013! That was millions of dollars that should have gone to things like improving building safety, etc. 

Not to be outdone, that screeching Carmen Yulin Cruz, who is the mayor of San Juan, PR is facing an FBI probe on her own corruption charges. She and her administration are under fire for allegedly obstructing critical supplies from reaching victims of the category-4 hurricane that leveled much of the tiny U.S. territory.

From Fox News and El Vocero de Puerto Rico: 

The FBI reportedly launched the investigation following a February lawsuit filed by Yadira Molina, the former director of procurement. Molina claims she was retaliated against for reporting “alleged irregular acts” to the local comptroller.

“On February 21, Molina sued the city council after reporting alleged acts of corruption in the shopping division in the town hall under the administration of Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz Soto,” 

Look, natural disasters happen. They've been happening since the dawn of time. In much the same way that Kanye blamed George W for Katrina, people on the Left are now blaming Trump for the disaster relief after Maria just like they're blaming him for the mere existence of Hurricane Florence. But there's no evidence that Trump caused Hurricane Florence just like they're no evidence that he didn't do enough to help Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. 

By the way, Kanye was wrong - George W Bush didn't hurt New Orleans; that accomplishment belongs to Mayor Ray Nagin (a black guy) who is currently sitting in prison for wire fraud, bribery, and money laundering related to bribes from city contractors before and after Katrina. His expected release date is sometime around 2024. Ray Nagin famously referred to New Orleans as a "chocolate city", because the town has so many black people as its citizens (and then he lied to those black people to cut a profit).

George W doesn't hate black people, but Ray Nagin probably does. 

Photo by Getty Images.

The Pursuit of Happiness

The Pursuit of Happiness

Ken Webster Jr is a talk radio personality and producer from Houston, TX. He started his career in Chicago on the Mancow show and has since worked at dozens of radio stations all over the country. He’s currently the host of Pursuit of Happiness... Read more

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