FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Maria’s Missing Dead

Hurricane Maria. Photo: NASA.

They knew it was coming. They knew when it would hit. They knew how strong the winds would be and how much rain the storm bands would unleash. They knew how high the surf might surge. They knew it would take out Puerto Rico’s decrepit power grid. They knew the island’s archaic water system would fail. They knew there would be landslides, burying roads, cutting off towns and isolating villages. They knew bridges and small dams would collapse. They knew backup generators would run out of gas. They knew hospitals and clinics would lose power. They knew tens of thousands of house would be destroyed, leaving families homeless for months. They knew there would be deaths and thousands of injuries. They knew children would be separated from parents, the elderly and infirm left alone. They knew there would be shortages of food, water, and medicine. They knew that Puerto Rico, struggling under crushing debt, imposed austerity and the cruel legacy of colonialism, was even less capable of dealing with the immediate aftermath of a super-storm than was Houston or New Orleans or Miami. They knew and yet they did nothing.

Hurricane Maria gave plenty of warning. Despite being under siege from Trump’s budget cuts, NOAA had meticulously tracked the storm since it first formed as an ominous wrinkle in the broiling waters of the eastern Atlantic off the coast of West Africa. They tracked it as it migrated across the Atlantic, incubating in 85-degree waters until it coalesced into a tropical depression near the Lesser Antilles. Then within 24 hours, Maria morphed from a tropical storm into a powerful hurricane, fueled by the most “explosive intensification” ever documented in the Atlantic Basin. On September 19, Maria entered in the Caribbean Sea, after smashing across the island of Dominica packing 165 mile per hour winds, the fiercest ever to hit the island.

The first tentacles of Maria lashed Puerto Rico on September 20th. Over the next 24 hours, some parts of the island were drenched by 40 inches of rain, eight inches more than Houston received over three days during Hurricane Harvey. The power went out within a few hours, plunging the island into the largest blackout in US history and the second largest in the history of the world. For months, people in rural villages were forced to drink water contaminated by toxic waste, rotting animal corpses and raw sewage.

George W. Bush was swiftly vilified for his callously lethargic response to the swamping of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Yet within a mere two weeks, Congress had appropriated $60 billion in emergency funding for Katrina survivors. In the wake of Maria, the government of Puerto Rico pleaded with the Trump administration for $94 billion disaster relief. It took the Ryan/McConnell-led Congress six months to act on Puerto Rico’s urgent request for help and then they only allocated a mere $16 billion in federal aid. In those six months, nearly 5,o00 Puerto Ricans may have died, according to a mortality analysis by public health researchers at Harvard University. Most of these weren’t victims of the storm itself, but of government indifference and incompetence in the days, weeks and months that followed.

In the months after the storm, Puerto Ricans died from lack of basic medical care. They died because they ran out of crucial medicines. They died because they couldn’t get to dialysis treatments. They died because their breathing machines stopped working. They died of chronic conditions and acute disorders. They died of stress and heart attacks. they died of dehydration, exposure and starvation. They died from despair and suicides. They died from the criminal neglect of their own government.

Trump should thank Roseanne Barr, whose racist Twitter-spasm knocked the Harvard Report on post-Maria deaths in Puerto Rico off the Sunday morning news talk shows, none of which even mentioned the staggering mortality rate, which was 90 times the government’s own total. The press, which largely left the island after Trump’s paper-towel tossing photo op in San Juan, is nearly as complicit as the president.

For weeks, the official death toll in Puerto Rico stood at 16, an absurd figure that Trump repeatedly invoked in a running advertisement for how his administration should have rated a “10 out of 10” for its response to the Hurricane. This number eventually climbed to 64 deaths, and there it stood for 8 months, rarely questioned by the media despite the ongoing carnage of the island. The devastating Harvard Report, released on the eve of the new Atlantic hurricane season, came and went, a brief interlude in the national psychodrama.

“It took too long to understand the need for an appropriate response was not about politics but about saying lives,” said Carmen Yulín Cruz, San Juan’s feisty mayor. “ Now will the government believe it?” There’s no sign that the government even read it, nevermind absorbed its urgent lessons.

Now there is no excuse. We all know what Puerto Ricans have suspected all along. Still, they do nothing. Instead, FEMA and its crony-contractors are leaving the island, where tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans remain without safe drinking water and reliable electrical power. Fields remain fallow. Food is scarce. And people are dying every day. But who’s counting?

This article is excerpted from The Big Heat: Earth on the Brink by Jeffrey St. Clair and Joshua Frank, which will be published in October.

Drowning on Dry Land

Booked Up

What I’m reading this week…

Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward

From the Folks Who Brought You the Weekend: an Illustrated History of Labor in the United States by Priscilla Murolo and AB Chitty (Illustrated by Joe Sacco)

Heartland: a Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth by Sarah Smarsh

Sound Grammar

What I’m listening to this week (on vinyl)…

Afro Cuban by Kenny Dorham

Good Things Don’t Happen Every Day by Jimmy McGriff and Junior Parker

The Soul Queen of New Orleans by Irma Thomas

Pardon Me

Ornette Coleman: “The violin, the saxophone, the trumpet: Each makes a very different sound but the very same notes. That’s pretty heavy, you know?  Imagine how many different races make up the human race. I’m called colored, you’re called white, he’s called something else. We still got an asshole and a mouth. Pardon me.”

More articles by:

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Bernie and the Sandernistas: Field Notes From a Failed Revolution. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net or on Twitter  @JSCCounterPunch

November 20, 2018
Thomas Knapp
Hypocrisy Alert: Republicans Agreed with Ocasio-Cortez Until About One Minute Ago
November 19, 2018
David Rosen
Amazon Deal: New York Taxpayers Fund World Biggest Sex-Toy Retailer
Sheldon Richman
Art of the Smear: the Israel Lobby Busted
Chad Hanson
Why Trump is Wrong About the California Wildfires
Dean Baker
Will Progressives Ever Think About How We Structure Markets, Instead of Accepting them as Given?
Robert Fisk
We Remember the Great War, While Palestinians Live It
Dave Lindorff
Pelosi’s Deceptive Plan: Blocking any Tax Rise Could Rule Out Medicare-for-All and Bolstering Social Security
Rick Baum
What Can We Expect From the Democrat “Alternative” Given Their Record in California?
Thomas Scott Tucker
Trump, World War I and the Lessons of Poetry
John W. Whitehead
Red Flag Gun Laws
Newton Finn
On Earth, as in Heaven: the Utopianism of Edward Bellamy
Robert Fantina
Shithole Countries: Made in the USA
René Voss
Have Your Say about Ranching in Our Point Reyes National Seashore
Weekend Edition
November 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jonah Raskin
A California Jew in a Time of Anti-Semitism
Andrew Levine
Whither the Melting Pot?
Joshua Frank
Climate Change and Wildfires: The New Western Travesty
Nick Pemberton
The Revolution’s Here, Please Excuse Me While I Laugh
T.J. Coles
Israel Cannot Use Violent Self-Defense While Occupying Gaza
Rob Urie
Nuclear Weapons are a Nightmare Made in America
Paul Street
Barack von Obamenburg, Herr Donald, and Big Capitalist Hypocrisy: On How Fascism Happens
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fire is Sweeping Our Very Streets Today
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s New President, Other European Fools and the Abyss 
Pete Dolack
“Winners” in Amazon Sweepstakes Sure to be the Losers
Richard Eskow
Amazon, Go Home! Billions for Working People, But Not One Cent For Tribute
Ramzy Baroud
In Breach of Human Rights, Netanyahu Supports the Death Penalty against Palestinians
Brian Terrell
Ending the War in Yemen- Congressional Resolution is Not Enough!
John Laforge
Woolsey Fire Burns Toxic Santa Susana Reactor Site
Ralph Nader
The War Over Words: Republicans Easily Defeat the Democrats
M. G. Piety
Reading Plato in the Time of the Oligarchs
Rafael Correa
Ecuador’s Soft Coup and Political Persecution
Brian Cloughley
Aid Projects Can Work, But Not “Head-Smacking Stupid Ones”
David Swanson
A Tale of Two Marines
Robert Fantina
Democrats and the Mid-Term Elections
Joseph Flatley
The Fascist Creep: How Conspiracy Theories and an Unhinged President Created an Anti-Semitic Terrorist
Joseph Natoli
Twitter: Fast Track to the Id
William Hawes
Baselines for Activism: Brecht’s Stance, the New Science, and Planting Seeds
Bob Wing
Toward Racial Justice and a Third Reconstruction
Ron Jacobs
Hunter S. Thompson: Chronicling the Republic’s Fall
Oscar Gonzalez
Stan Lee and a Barrio Kid
Jack Rasmus
Election 2018 and the Unraveling of America
Sam Pizzigati
The Democrats Won Big, But Will They Go Bold?
Yves Engler
Canada and Saudi Arabia: Friends or Enemies?
Cesar Chelala
Can El Paso be a Model for Healing?
Mike Ferner
The Tragically Misnamed Paris Peace Conference
Barry Lando
Trump’s Enablers: Appalling Parallels
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail