By Luis V. Gutiérrez
Editor’s Note: Congressman Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL) released the following statement in response to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine by Harvard University researchers that estimates the death toll in Puerto Rico from Hurricane María was at least 4,645, making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in American history.
Hurricane María hit with brutal force for a full day in September 2017, but the subsequent disaster was the federal government’s response to the damage María caused. The Harvard study confirms our worst nightmares, predictions and warnings at the time. I was not the only one who knew from the beginning that there was much greater loss of life than the President, the Governor or official sources were claiming. I heard from Puerto Rican constituents about family members who had perished and were buried or cremated before the family could make arrangements. In the days and weeks after the storm, I met elderly, sick and disabled people who were unable to access medical care, electricity or fresh water, which put their lives in jeopardy long after the storm.
Throwing a few paper towels or enlightening people to the fact that Puerto Rico is an island surrounded by water was no substitute for treating millions of people in need with urgency, compassion, and honesty – all of which are human traits that are beyond this President’s capacity.
This is an American tragedy. The response received in Puerto Rico does not compare to our response in other disaster-hit areas like Texas and Florida, thank goodness, because many lives were saved in those other places. But the need was much, much greater in Puerto Rico and the response was completely inadequate to the disaster at hand.
Yes, the hurricane caused deaths. That was Mother Nature, but this tragedy was multiplied by the nature of the response from the President of the United States and our government. Throwing a few paper towels or enlightening people to the fact that Puerto Rico is an island surrounded by water was no substitute for treating millions of people in need with urgency, compassion, and honesty – all of which are human traits that are beyond this President’s capacity.
Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez is a Member of the Judiciary Committee and the Chair of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and is a Member of the Puerto Rico Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.