Trump needs to accept the facts on hurricanes

Hurricane Florence drowned much of North and South Carolina this past week, and the rains and floods go on as the storm works its way now to the Northeast. 

As of Tuesday, the official death toll stood as 32, with both wind and water contributing to that tragic figure.

Thousands and thousands of Carolinians heeded the evacuation orders and left the danger zones for higher ground or more distant locations. 

Son Matthew went the extra mile by attending his cousin’s wedding last Saturday in Portland, Ore., where we joined him several thousand miles from his Raleigh, N.C., home.

Raleigh, located in the central tidewater section of North Carolina, got several inches of rain and experienced some flooding in its low-lying areas, but nothing like what the coastal regions of the Carolinas received. 

Matt, like those thousands of his Carolinian neighbors, was able to leave because he could afford to. Some simply could not, and they had to hunker down and ride it out as best they could. Others just refused to go, and stayed put on their own volition. 

It will take quite a while for government and volunteer personnel to clean things up and get everything back to normal. Florence was a 500-mile-wide storm when it came on the coast. But its winds had died down considerably by the time it reached landfall, and most of the destruction appears to be from the rainfall and flooding, with 40 inches of rain recorded at some coastal locations.

Thirty-two deaths are a tragedy, and in the aftermath the number will probably go higher. 

It certainly did in Puerto Rico over the past year.

Separate scientific studies conducted by researchers at George Washington University and Penn State University in recent weeks now peg the number of fatalities from Hurricane Maria, which ravaged the entire length of Puerto Rico for two weeks in late September 2017, at nearly 3,000. 

The George Washington study was commissioned by the Puerto Rican government.

Botched and slowed government response efforts following Maria’s devastation were undeniably related to that incredible toll, researchers have found. 

To arrive at the Maria-caused death figure, the university studies compared the average number of deaths in Puerto Rico over the past many years to the number in the year following Maria. They also conducted on-the-scene research and interviews.

Their careful studies render ludicrous the previously declared official death total of 64. That figure had held steady for many months until the scientific research announced its findings. 

Even more ludicrous is President Trump’s defiance about Maria-caused deaths. 

The president visited the island on Oct. 3, 2017, and afterward declared that only between six and 18 deaths resulted from the Category 4 hurricane.

That figure was questionable even at the time of his visit, which occurred just days after the storm. Nearly all Puerto Ricans had nowhere to go for escape, except for a few well-to-do residents who had left for Florida before the hurricane struck. 

But recovery has been agonizingly slow over the past year. 

Swaths of Puerto Rico went without power for nearly all that time. Many roads remain very badly damaged, and safe drinking water is still hard to find in places. 

The dawdling response is hard to justify.

So access to health care and basic necessities over the past many months has put many Puerto Ricans at mortal risk. Thousands did not survive those conditions. They were undeniably victims of the hurricane.

It would be easy for Trump to grant the truth of that fact. The accumulation of deaths has occurred over a period of many months since his visit last October.

But to do so would call into question the A+ grade he has given himself for his administration’s recovery response to the storm.

So instead, he blasts the university studies as a Democratic smear tactic, and denies the cause-and-effect connection between dilatory recovery efforts and the rising death total.

And in contrast to the dozens of Republican full congressional hearings that followed the Hurricane Katrina disastrous response under President Bush 13 years ago, the obsequious Republicans in today’s Congress have held only a handful of subcommittee hearings into the response to Hurricane Maria.

Just one more example of how politics bullies facts in today’s America.

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