Yes, Nearly 3,000 Died After Hurricane Maria; No, Trump Isn’t to Blame

Yes, Nearly 3,000 Died After Hurricane Maria; No, Trump Isn’t to Blame

Yes, Nearly 3,000 Died After Hurricane Maria; No, Trump Isn’t to Blame

If you haven’t heard, today’s unhinged Democrat screeching is brought to you courtesy of President Trump’s Twitter reply about a recently released George Washington University study that estimates deaths in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria were much higher than initially assessed. The left, of course, attributed the nearly 3,000 deaths to the Trump Administration’s supposedly “failed” response, while Trump took to Twitter to condemn the study as biased against him personally.

Both are wrong.

George Washington University Milken Institute study cover.

I have to wonder if anyone on either side of the political aisle actually bothered to read the study before engaging in demented shrieking. If you’re interested, the link to the full study is here. There are a few things the study examined that are relevant here.

One is why the mortality reporting after Hurricane Maria was so far off mark.

Another is an examination of how many excess deaths occurred post-Maria.

And a third is what could have been done differently in order to report information more accurately.

Here’s what the study does NOT do.

It doesn’t assign blame, and it doesn’t claim the Administration’s response was insufficient or lacking. In fact, it doesn’t mention the Trump Administration’s response at all.

The project had the following objectives: 1) assess the excess total mortality adjusting for demographic variables and seasonality, report a point estimate and confidence interval and make recommendations; 2) evaluate the implementation of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for mortality reporting in disasters and identify areas of opportunity for improvement; and 3) assess crisis and mortality communication plans and actions by the government as well as understand experiences and perceptions of key participant groups to make recommendations based on communications best practices.

Photo courtesy of: Alvin Baez/Reuters

In other words, the study focused on how many died in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, where the deaths occurred, why initial mortality reports were incorrect, and how to ensure that the reporting is more accurate dog forbid there’s a next time.

This had nothing to do with Trump, the administration’s response or the work of the thousands of dedicated military and civilian responders and volunteers who deployed to Puerto Rico to help.

So what did the findings show?

These were, in fact, three different studies under one umbrella.

Our excess mortality study analyzed past mortality patterns (mortality registration and population census data from 2010 to 2017) in order to predict the expected mortality if Hurricane Maria had not occurred (predicted mortality) and compare this figure to the actual deaths that occurred (observed mortality). The difference between those two numbers is the estimate of excess mortality due to the hurricane. We developed a series of generalized linear models (GLMs) with monthly data for the pre-hurricane period of July 2010-August 2017, accounting for trends in population size and distribution over this period in terms of age, sex, seasonality and residence by municipal level of socioeconomic development. Our estimates also considered Puerto Rico’s consistently high emigration during the prior decade and dramatic population displacement after the hurricane. We used the model results to project forward mortality that would have been expected if the hurricane had not occurred for two scenarios—if the population had not changed (census scenario), and explicitly accounting for massive post-hurricane population displacement from the island (displacement scenario). For observed mortality, we used records for all deaths occurring from September 2017-February 2018, provided by the Puerto Rico Vital Statistics Records (PRVSR) division of the Puerto Rico Department of Health (DoH). The estimates of excess all-cause mortality attributable to the hurricane are the result of comparing the projections for the census and displacement scenarios to observed mortality in the vital registration data.

In order to respond to the Puerto Rican Government’s query about how well CDC guidelines for mortality reporting in a disaster were followed, we conducted a two-part study to assess both the death certification process and the quality of death certificate data. We conducted interviews with 26 individuals involved in the death certification and registration process to understand procedures under normal conditions and whether and how these were affected after the hurricane. In addition, we reviewed legislation and manuals related to death certification in Puerto Rico, as well as literature on death certification in general and specifically in disasters.

 […]

Our third study assessed crisis and emergency risk communications by the Government of Puerto Rico before and after Hurricane Maria, with an emphasis on the communications plans in place at the time of the hurricane, trained staff dedicated to crisis and emergency risk communication, procedures for mortality reporting to the public, spokespeople interaction with the media and key participant perceptions of the government’s risk communication and mortality reporting. For the communication assessment methodology, instruments, and analytical framework, we applied established guidelines from CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) for communication in emergencies, which are supported by a robust scientific evidence base. We also applied principles from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Whole Community Approach for community-based emergency preparedness (FEMA 2011).

The study found that there was a population reduction of roughly 8 percent in the months after the hurricane hit and that mortality was slowly declining until August 2017, but that rates increased between September 2017 and February 2018. Well, duh! There were two hurricanes: Irma and Maria, ferpetessake!

The methodology seems sound, and the factors responsible for the disparity between initial mortality reports and the GW study’s estimates had nothing to do with Trump, the administration, or its response.

But each side has violent temper tantrums and apoplectic seizures at the thought of either being blamed for the deaths, or having no one to blame except the Puerto Rican government.

No, 3,000 people did not die IN the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico, as Trump claims. That’s not what the study said. They died in the AFTERMATH of the storms, which is a whole different assessment, and unsurprising given the fact that most of these deaths were elderly people in economically depressed areas of the island, who lacked basic necessities and generally are quite a bit more fragile than others. Yes, Hurricane Maria brought on these conditions, but if you do any research into the conditions on the island before Irma and Maria hit, you will see that the hurricanes merely exacerbated an already bad situation, causing numerous deaths.

Menendez’s accusation is false and downright moronic, given the fact that Puerto Rico was already having economic and infrastructure issues before the hurricanes hit. And yes, as I mentioned earlier, old people will be quicker to die if left without proper medical care, water, or electricity.

Photo credit: U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Alexis C. Schneider

The administration’s response was actually decent – not without its flaws, but certainly better than what the shrieking Democrats suggest – despite Menendez’s impotent prevarications. More than 17,000 troops were deployed to help distribute supplies, repair the electrical grid, conduct search and rescue missions, and provide medical care. But there was a delayed response, because of something called the Posse Comitatus Act, which prohibits the military from performing domestic law enforcement duties.

This wasn’t Trump’s fault. The law was passed in 1878, although I guarantee you the left will try to somehow plop the responsibility at Trump’s feet. That’s why the deployment of support after the earthquake in Haiti by Obama was quicker than the mobilization to Puerto Rico, Sunny Hostin, you daft cow. Haiti is not in the United States; Puerto Rico is.

The deployment of 17,000 troops, 82 aircraft and three combat support hospitals was comparable in size to the U.S. military’s mission in the Philippines after 2013’s Typhoon Haiyan. There, 13,400 troops were deployed to some 450 disaster zones across the country.

As critics have observed, that is far smaller than the Haiti earthquake response, when 22,000 troops and 33 U.S. military ships were sent to the island.

This makes sense when given the death tolls of these various disasters, though. Some 230,000 people died in Haiti’s earthquake. Roughly 12,000 died in the Philippines. When the U.S. went to Puerto Rico, the government there maintained that just 16 people had died in the storm – though that would turn out to be a very low count.

Photo courtesy of: Alex Wroblewski/Bloomberg

Also, there were other factors at play. Downed communications lines, blocked roads, and lack of power hobbled coordination between the Defense Department and local officials, as well as impeded search and rescue efforts on the island. This wasn’t Trump’s fault either.

There was flooding, the power grid was destroyed, hospital backup generators were out, cell and land line service were nonexistent, and public service radios and 911 were also out. Given all these complications, the courageous government responders and volunteers who were sent to Puerto Rico had little with which to work.

Logistics were a challenge, because Puerto Rico is a tropical island, according to LTC John Cunningham of the Army Corps of Engineers. That’s not Trump’s fault.

…they need specific conductors and materials that can resist the tropical weather and there’s a limited number of suppliers available to purchase specific materials for the island.

And by the way, Puerto Rico’s corrupt, inept, and bankrupt Electric Power Authority (PREPA), failed to maintain the island’s electrical infrastructure. That wasn’t Trump’s fault either.

One of the reasons for a lack of inventory in the first place is PREPA’s financial woes. While a Category 5 hurricane like Maria was expected to cause massive damage, Puerto Rico’s bankrupt and greatly indebted public utility had not kept up with upgrading and modernizing its four-decade-old power plants, which mostly produce energy from burning imported oil.

For his part, Trump needs to understand that not everything is about him. The study conducted by GW used scientific methodologies to estimate a more correct number of fatalities in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria than what was provided by the inept Puerto Rican government, and the hesitation of physicians and others who filled out death certificates to attribute some deaths to the hurricane also contributed to the faulty estimations.

The official government estimate of 64 deaths from the hurricane is low primarily because the conventions used for causal attribution only allowed for classification of deaths attributable directly to the storm, e.g., those caused by structural collapse, flying debris, floods and drownings (see below). During our broader study, we found that many physicians were not oriented in the appropriate certification protocol. This translated into an inadequate indicator for monitoring mortality in the hurricane’s aftermath. Verification of attribution takes time, while excess mortality estimation is a more immediate indicator.

The study showed that physicians weren’t aware of how to properly certify deaths “and the Government of Puerto Rico’s lack of communication about death certificate reporting prior to the 2017 hurricane season substantially limited the count of deaths related to María.”

Maybe both sides of the political aisle could shut up, read the report, and stop using this tragedy to further their idiot politics.

I, for one, am sick and tired of listening to them vomit garbage from their blowholes.

Featured photo courtesy of: Alvin Baez/Reuters

Written by

Marta Hernandez is an immigrant, writer, editor, science fiction fan (especially military sci-fi), and a lover of freedom, her children, her husband and her pets. She loves to shoot, and range time is sacred, as is her hiking obsession, especially if we’re talking the European Alps. She is an avid caffeine and TWD addict, and wants to own otters, sloths, wallabies, koalas, and wombats when she grows up.

12 Comments
  • Well, I’m still waiting for the GW (or Harvard, or Yale, or anybody) study that lays out the “excess deaths” resulting from Obamacare. Minimum of 11,000 per year, or twice that if you include the surge in opiod related deaths (which, JUST COINCIDENTALLY, began with the implementation of ObamaCare).

    Waiting… But not holding my breath, I don’t plan to add to that mortality spike.

  • GWB says:

    In other words, the study focused on how many died in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, where the deaths occurred, why initial mortality reports were incorrect, and how to ensure that the reporting is more accurate dog forbid there’s a next time.
    Note one important thing: none of that determines WHY any of those deaths occurred. IOW, it’s purely a numbers exercise, without relation to actual involvement of the hurricane in that mortality spike.

    The estimates of excess all-cause mortality attributable to the hurricane are the result of comparing the projections for the census and displacement scenarios to observed mortality in the vital registration data.
    That highlighted word is the problem. Unless you know the actual cause of death and the circumstances surrounding it, you can’t actually attribute it to the hurricane. It’s a case of “correlation =/= causation”. And, yes, that contributes mightily to the other conclusions of the report – that PR sucks at modern gov’t, and things like actually reporting accurately what happens on their little island paradise. (OK, that first phrase is ~my~ conclusion.)
    (BTW, you could also say some measure of those excess deaths were attributable to PR being an island. Because if a Cat 5 hit, say, SC, a lot of those at risk folks would have a) been evacuated or b) been removed easily to better care post-hurricane. Being on an island complicated any response, as you noted. I wonder if they factored that into their statistics? Or was that ignored because it was a “steady state” condition?)

    That’s not what the study said.
    But that’s how it was *reported*.

    causing numerous deaths
    I would use the more accurate term “accelerating”.

    Also, there were other factors at play.
    Yeah, like the corruptocrat PR gov’ts actually blocking federal gov’t efforts. A lot of the logistical issues were entirely on the part of those gov’t entities.

    Basically, PR was a terribly fragile little paradise, with the termites of corrupt gov’t and a corrupt society eating away at it’s structure. Then, along comes a big, bad wolf and blows down their house of sticks. And they want to blame Little Red Riding Hood or Goldilocks, somehow.

    Should Trump have ignored the study? Maybe. But, then again, fighting back against the wannabe aristocrats and their lackeys is a big reason a lot of folks voted for Trump. And much of the reporting on the study was most certainly oriented on “Trump killed those people!” It’s slanderous, and it should be fought.

    Don’t get me wrong, Marta. I appreciate the accurate reporting you’re doing. I push for this stuff all the time. I just think the kerfuffle here is tangential to the actual report.

    (BTW, it’s well past time to cut PR loose and let them govern themselves, instead of this bullcarp in-between-a-territory-and-a-state business. Set them free. Period.)

    • GWB says:

      One other point, re “attributable”….
      Attributing deaths to the aftermath of the hurricane could almost as easily be done for the corrupt gov’ts on the island. Except, again, those corrupt gov’ts are a “steady state condition”, and so don’t get any credit for their help in trashing the island paradise post-Maria.

  • Nicki says:

    “Note one important thing: none of that determines WHY any of those deaths occurred. IOW, it’s purely a numbers exercise, without relation to actual involvement of the hurricane in that mortality spike.”

    Yes, it’s a numbers game. They didn’t get into direct cause – whether starvation, heart attack, or whatever. But if for the past six years they had a steady number of deaths in that time period, and then they had an increase post-Maria, it’s a logical assessment that the aftermath (hospitals without power, shitty water, etc.) would be responsible. Nonetheless, it still has nothing to do with the administration’s response, which is what the idiots on the left are claiming.

    Unfortunately hurricanes happen. Deaths happen because of them. And sometimes we can’t do anything about it.

    “Attributing deaths to the aftermath of the hurricane could almost as easily be done for the corrupt gov’ts on the island.”

    These are secondary and tertiary order effects. PR has a crappy government. Its crap was exacerbated by the hurricane. There was no increase in mortality prior to the hurricane, even with the crappy government. Post-hurricane, there was an increase.

    In any case, I think the point was that it wasn’t the administration’s fault. We all agree on that one.

    • GWB says:

      Mostly concur. Except those two steady-state conditions I note (island and corrupt gov’t) may be great big reasons that the hurricane had such a large impact. In a situation without one of those two factors, the same hurricane wouldn’t have had near the impact on mortality rates.

      (I give as an example: Katrina. Corrupt gov’t, near impossible logistics, high toll of devastation – in New Orleans. But not as much in surrounding areas without those two problems.)

      It’s much like saying “high speed” caused the death of occupants in an automobile crash, when no one was wearing a seatbelt. In highway accidents (and even more so in aircraft incidents) they have to distinguish that the lack of seatbelt use was the cause of death, but high speed was the cause of the accident. It’s a chain of events – breaking that chain anywhere along the way stops the really bad ending. Break the corruption in gov’t on PR, and the death toll would have climbed, but not as precipitously. Move the situation to the mainland, and the death toll, again, doesn’t rise as much. Note, of the 3 links in the chain that I have mentioned, only one is actually fixable. Unless you can talk Israel into giving us a break when they’re playing with their weather machine.

      Again, I think they’re right to use that discrepancy to argue for better procedures and training on the island. For the very reasons in that last paragraph I wrote. But they should be more discerning when attributing those deaths to the hurricane, itself.

      • Nicki says:

        Oh, hey – meant to ask…

        Did I see you comment on TAH and Larry Correia’s blog at some point?

        I think you’re familiar. 🙂

        • Russ Wood says:

          I need to draw attention to the additional fact that PR had gone heavily into ‘renewables’ for its power. Classical fossil fuelled powerplants have repeatedly shown their capability to withstand most major natural events (this, of course, excludes such disasters as the ‘Fukushima’ earthquake plus tsunami). But the ‘skeptic’ blogs were full of post-Maria pictures, showing destroyed wind turbines and devastated fields of broken glass that were once solar PV panels. Add to this the fact that ‘renewables’ tend to be wide-spread, and require lots (and lots, and lots) of vulnerable power lines across the country, and you have a recipe for losing an entire state’s power when hit by a natural disaster. If anyone is pointing fingers, they need to be aimed at the island’s own administration, not only for its inaction after the fact, but by believing the ‘greenies’ and going for ‘clean power’ without taking into account just WHERE they were!

        • GWB says:

          Yes, I have commented both places, and occasionally on others connected to those.

  • Nicki says:

    “It’s much like saying “high speed” caused the death of occupants in an automobile crash, when no one was wearing a seatbelt. In highway accidents (and even more so in aircraft incidents) they have to distinguish that the lack of seatbelt use was the cause of death, but high speed was the cause of the accident.”

    But I would say that the ACCIDENT was the cause of death. It’s the event. Everything else contributed (not wearing seatbelt, speed, etc.), but it’s the actual event. And I think that’s what this study was trying to do. Man, reading that was PAINFUL!!

    That said, I doubt the purpose of the study was to stick it to Trump, but inevitably that’s what the left will use it to do, and inevitably, he will respond in the shittiest way possible. 🙁

    • David says:

      … he will respond in the shittiest way possible
      Just how would you have President Trump respond?

      He could be like former Presidents Clinton & Obama, using behind the scenes coercion, such as, “Hey, GWU, nice research facility you have there, be a shame if anything happened to its funding.” And then have the MSM pile on until GWU publicly apologized and change their findings.

      Or, would you rather have it as President Trump does so often, stepping forward in the public square to state fully and loudly, “BS!”

      Personally, I prefer the latter; it’s honestly transparent.

      • Nicki says:

        Me, personally? I’d prefer he focus on issues that are actually important, than spend time on Twitter attacking his detractors. I’d prefer he read the study and realize that the Democrats are going to do what they do, and that the study has nothing to do with him, didn’t focus on him, and didn’t analyze his or his administration’s response in any way, but rather focused on why PR effed up its reporting.

        Because there are few nuances and details possible in tweets (I think it’s probably the stupidest platform out there), and the shit he tweeted out is dumb as fuck.

        But that’s just me. YMMV

        • David says:

          Normally, taking the high road should be the default position for U.S. presidents. Sadly, when former president Bush did that he and is administration were eviscerated by the MSM and democrats. He would not fight back.

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