Soon after Hurricane Maria wrought such incredible devastation in Puerto Rico in the fall of 2017, the storm's official death toll released by the government was 64. Now, almost a year later, that figure has been revised, and the new figure is very, very different: 2,975. San Juan mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz responded to the Hurricane Maria death toll, and she had some very strong words directed at the Trump administration.
"Well, sometimes people don't want to handle the truth," Cruz told CNN on Wednesday morning. "When we were walking around Puerto Rico, when we were walking around San Juan, we could see the devastation."
The original government death toll was based strictly on people who had lost their lives during the storm, for example by falling buildings or by drowning, as the BBC explained. However, CNN wrote that many Puerto Rico residents have long believed that the storm caused the deaths of their loved ones when people relying on electricity for their life support systems did not have access to power — and that the original death toll ignored those people entirely.
"We knew that there were people dependent on life support systems, on insulin, chemotherapy, dialysis, that, because they had no power, were not able to receive that," Cruz explained.
The new Hurricane Maria death toll estimate, published by George Washington University on Tuesday, takes into many of those deaths as well — but as their new number is still only an estimate, the chance remains that it could go up.
"Today is a very sad day, and a very shameful day," Cruz told CNN, explaining that even some officials within the Puerto Rican government hadn't wanted to tell the truth about the number of people who lost their lives as a direct result of Hurricane Maria. Just earlier in August, the Puerto Rican government admitted that their earlier estimates were far lower than the total number, CNN reported — but even that admission took over ten months.
"The one thing that we were prepared for was to tell the truth," Cruz said. "I knew that this wasn't a good news story, that people were dying and that the bureaucracy and inefficiency were killing us."
The officials who didn't immediately come forward with the more accurate information, Cruz said on CNN, "didn't want to tell the truth, because they wanted to sing to the tune of Donald Trump, and the spin of the good news story."
"Now it's proven. This is a people died story. This is not a number, it's 2975 ... people who will never see the light of day, and many of them died because of neglect," Cruz continued. "Neglect that was done by the Trump administration and silently approved by most of the political class in Puerto Rico."
Trump, as the Telegraph reported at the time, was roundly criticized for his administration's slow response to Hurricane Maria, particularly when he said that it was not "a real catastrophe like [Hurricane] Katrina." According to PBS, Katrina's official death toll was 1,883 — and the new Maria death toll has now exceeded that by over 50 percent.