Tuesday, October 03, 2017


President Trump said this in San Juan today:
"Every death is a horror, but if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina, and you look at the tremendous — hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died, and you look at what happened here, with really a storm that was just totally overpowering, nobody's ever seen anything like this. What is your death count as of this moment? 17? 16 people certified, 16 people versus in the thousands. You can be very proud of all of your people and all of our people working together. Sixteen versus literally thousands of people. You can be very proud. Everybody around this table and everybody watching can really be very proud of what's taken place in Puerto Rico."
We know what the goals of Trump's trip to Puerto Rico were: to quiet Trump critics, to impress on viewers that Trump is doing an excellent job, and to communicate the message that everyone who matters loves Trump and has nothing but praise for his work. It's hard to see how downplaying the suffering of Puerto Ricans helps Trump achieve these goals -- but when we critique Trump, the deplorables get the message that he must be doing a great job, so I guess has the desired effect on the only people Trump cares about.

Trump wants to communicate the message that he's done everything possible, and part of that is suggesting that Puerto Rico has a low death toll (thanks to Trump's efforts) and doesn't need any more help than Trump is offering, because so few people are dying. We know Trump is a congenital liar -- but he's also an ignoramus. So here's the question: Is Trump trying to sell us on the notion that the final death toll in Puerto Rico will be only sixteen even though he knows that's not true? Or does he literally not realize that the total is incomplete?

As Vox's Eliza Barclay has noted, that death toll hasn't changed in days, but it will sooner or later:
The official death count has not budged since Wednesday....

... there is good reason to believe the actual figure is much higher than 16, and will continue to climb.

Omaya Sosa Pascual is a reporter with the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI) in San Juan....

Pascual spoke to dozens of doctors, administrators, morgue directors, and funeral directors around the country, and wrote up her initial findings in a September 28 report in the Miami Herald. She then got Puerto Rico’s public safety secretary to confirm Monday that there have been dozens more deaths than the official statistic reflects. By her count, there are now an estimated 60 confirmed deaths linked to the hurricane and possibly hundreds more to come.
As Sosa wrote:
The dead are at the hospital morgues, which are at capacity and in remote places where the government has yet to go. In many cases, families are unaware of the deaths. The government’s Demographic Registry is responsible for certifying deaths so bodies can be removed by funeral homes, many of which are not operating because of lack of resources....

CPI also has learned that the Institute of Forensic Sciences is also full of bodies and that 25 of those are hurricane victims. On Tuesday, the IFS reported that it had increased its storage capacity for bodies with a trailer that was obtained through The Morgue federal program.
Lack of power, lack of Internet, government officials who've lost their homes and thus can't sign death certificates -- there are many reasons why the dead aren't being tallied.

And there'll be more deaths to come, as Dr. Sanjay Gupta reminds us:
For want of insulin, blood pressure medications and antibiotics, things widely available at any neighborhood pharmacy in the US mainland, people in Puerto Rico will die -- are dying -- preventable deaths.
It doesn't take much to grasp this -- a little reading, a commonsense understanding of how natural disasters prey on the vulnerable. But is Donald Trump capable of understanding it?

Those who've attempted to count Katrina's dead include so-called indirect deaths, some of which took place months after the storm hit. It probably doesn't surprise you to learn that. I bet it would surprise the president.

And a few months from now, when the official death toll is much higher than sixteen, Trump's fans, and maybe Trump himself, will assume the higher number is fake news, meant solely to embarrass the president.


UPDATE: The official death toll has been raised to 34.

No comments: