Perspectives: Hurricane Maria Tragedy In Puerto Rico Is Trump’s Katrina; FEMA’s Role Is Only Supportive

Opinion writers focus on the government’s response to the devastating health situation in Puerto Rico.

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USA Today: As New Hurricane Season Starts, Remember The 4,645 Puerto Rico Deaths 

The most iconic image from Donald Trump’s helmsmanship of last year’s Puerto Rico crisis is the clip of the president in a windbreaker tossing paper towels, free-throw style, to survivors of Hurricane Maria. Other responses were equally disquieting: Trump’s assurances that federal emergency managers were doing an “incredible job.” His Twitter war with the despairing mayor of storm-ravaged San Juan. And his odd remark that the island’s desolation wasn’t a “real catastrophe” like Hurricane Katrina, which slammed the Gulf Coast in 2005, because there were only 16 deaths in Puerto Rico. The official tally would eventually rise to 64. But it wasn’t until this week, with the release of a Harvard mortality analysis, that Americans could fully gauge how their fellow citizens on Puerto Rico fell victim to the deadliest natural disaster on U.S. soil in a century — an estimated 4,645 deaths, well over twice the number killed by Katrina. (5/31)

USA Today: FEMA: Like In Puerto Rico, Our Role Is To Support Local Governments

Last year’s historic hurricane season was a true test of the nation’s ability to respond to, and recover from, three near-simultaneous catastrophic hurricanes followed by the California wildfires. The impacts of these storms and the wildfires cannot be overstated. About 47 million people were affected by these events, or roughly 15% of the entire U.S. population. FEMA will always work tirelessly to support state, local, tribal and territorial partners to respond to and recover from disasters. FEMA is not a first responder; disasters are state managed, locally executed and federally supported. Our role is to support local governments following a disaster only after their capacity to respond has been exceeded. (Brock Long, 5/31)

The New York Times: An American Tragedy

The true death toll could exceed 4,600, according to a study published this week in The New England Journal of Medicine that appears to be the most rigorous count yet. Many of the victims likely died from delayed medical care, which is something that a competent government response could have avoided. Puerto Rico’s fatality count is now more than twice as high as the Katrina count that Trump called a “real catastrophe.” It’s easy to overlook Puerto Rico with everything else going on — the latest news about Trump’s apparent efforts to obstruct justice, his continuing criticism of his own attorney general and so on. But I urge you to not forget Puerto Rico. (David Leonhardt, 5/31)

The Nation: Puerto Rico Matters More

I have written enough books about how media cover politics to know that the story of a racist celebrity losing a TV show, like that of a racist president’s response to the cancellation of the show he once told supporters was “about us,” was going to trump the story about the dramatic loss of life on the island of Puerto Rico. But that does not change the fact that the news of the actual death toll on the islands after they were hit by Hurricane Maria matters more. It matters more than Roseanne Barr’s self-inflicted wounds, and it matters more than Donald Trump’s self-absorbed interpretation of the news. (John Nichols, 5/31)

Houston Chronicle: How Can The U.S. Atone For 4,600 Dead In Puerto Rico After Hurricane Maria? 

This is Trump’s Katrina. It is time for the nation to set aside the petty bickering about TV stars and talk show hosts and focus on the tragedy that has so easily been lost in the churn of our tweet-length news cycle. A functioning Congress would leap into action with hearings about what went wrong and what we can learn from Puerto Rico. A country ashamed by its failure to save fellow citizens would push ahead to grant statehood to Puerto Rico so that the island, which is larger than 20 states, would finally have voting members in Congress. Our Gulf Coast leaders, who know well the savagery of Mother Nature, would head a national movement to rebuild and protect our coasts from floods and storms. After all, if 4,600 deaths merit only a shrug, how can Corpus Christi, Galveston or Houston expect a response to a storm like Harvey, which killed 82? (6/1)

USA Today: ‘Roseanne’ Trumped Puerto Rico Hurricane Deaths. For Shame, News Media.

Both the media and the president considered it Big News when ABC swiftly canceled Rosanne Barr’s show hours after she sent an offensive tweet about former Obama White House aide Valerie Jarrett. … What wasn’t Big News? A Harvard study issued the same day estimating that roughly 4,600 Puerto Ricans died as a result of Hurricane Maria — 70 times higher than the official government death toll of 64 people. Researchers believe the number is conservative, and would be higher if they included people who lived alone and died from the storm. (Alicia Shepard, 6/1)

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.

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Patricia is the founder and editor of Little Bytes News, a former elementary teacher, radio talk show host, political activist and political blogger. In 2012, Patricia was nominated one of “Circle of Moms” top 25 political bloggers.
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Patricia is the founder and editor of Little Bytes News, a former elementary teacher, radio talk show host, political activist and political blogger. In 2012, Patricia was nominated one of “Circle of Moms” top 25 political bloggers.

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