About that Puerto Rican hurricane death toll . . .

I can’t help but agree with President Trump when he cast aspersions on the newly increased death toll attributed to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year.

In a tweet, Trump said: “3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico. When I left the Island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths. As time went by it did not go up by much. Then, a long time later, they started to report really large numbers, like 3000.”

. . .

That number was produced by public health experts at George Washington University in Washington in a report commissioned by the U.S. territory’s governor, Ricardo Rossello.

The study found that those deaths could be attributed directly or indirectly to Maria from the time it struck in September 2017 to mid-February of this year.

The report compared predicted mortality under normal circumstances and deaths documented after Maria.

Rossello said Puerto Ricans “do not deserve to have their pain questioned” and backed the study.

There’s more at the link.

Just read the comments above, and think about them.  The study did not count actual bodies on the ground, or look at how they died.  It calculated the total number of deaths in the period under discussion, and compared them to death tolls in the same period in previous years, then classified the discrepancy as “hurricane Maria deaths”.  It did so without actual, physical evidence that the hurricane or its aftermath had actually caused the deaths in question – it simply assumed that.  This was a purely statistical analysis.

What’s more, the emphasis on emotion rather than fact – “Puerto Ricans do not deserve to have their pain questioned” – is complete and utter nonsense.  You can’t quantify emotion.  You can – and should – quantify facts.  If you don’t, and you act according to wrong information, then on your own head be the consequences.  Heinlein’s dictum comes to mind.

I find this study highly suspect.  One can find similar increased death tolls in other areas, but with autopsies, witness statements, etc. that make it possible to analyze them properly.  Example:  the opioid epidemic that’s ravaging several US states at present.  Death rates due to the misuse of opioids are climbing dramatically, but in every case, the cause of death can be measured, medically confirmed, and verified.  How do we know that opioids weren’t responsible for at least some of the “excess” deaths in Puerto Rico?  What about deaths caused by vehicles?  How do you know whether an accident was due to increased traffic, caused by aid distribution after the storm, or a drunk driver?  The first might be blamed on the hurricane;  the second, certainly not.  Without medical and other evidence, one can’t assign a definitive cause to each casualty;  but the study conducted there did not examine such evidence.  It only looked at numbers, and made assumptions.

Furthermore, there’s a very clear indication of why Puerto Rico would want to inflate its death toll as high as possible.  The Wall Street Journal reports:

The release of the George Washington University study comes as the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria approaches on Sept. 20, and Congress considers the island government’s request for federal aid to rebuild from the storm.

. . .

In the document that Puerto Rico’s government filed to Congress earlier this month, island officials detailed an ambitious reconstruction proposal. The 531-page plan included requests for $139 billion worth of projects, including housing initiatives and energy investments.

Since Oct. 1, 2017, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has designated more than $13.7 billion for Puerto Rico. There is no money specifically to help Puerto Rico in the government funding bills that both chambers are considering for next year. The bills would appropriate $7 billion for FEMA’s disaster relief fund, some of which would go to Puerto Rico. But that funding isn’t intended to help with the long-term projects that the island is requesting.

Again, more at the link.

You don’t suppose there might, just possibly, be a link between a dramatically higher claimed death toll on Puerto Rico, and its demand for billions upon billions of US taxpayer dollars to spend on itself?  I wouldn’t put that past the island’s notably inefficient and corrupt government.  Based on their track record, I’d even say it’s likely.  What’s more, the amount of aid “for projects” that the island is requesting is – surprise, surprise! – “only” $16 billion more than its total government debt of $123 billion.  You don’t suppose much of that taxpayer money – if we’re so unwise as to give it to them – might be used, not for “projects”, but to dig the island out of the financial hole it’s dug for itself over the past few decades?  Perhaps with the excess billions diverted into the pockets of greedy, corrupt politicians and their cronies?  Say it ain’t so!

As always, “follow the money“.  I’d say the odds are very good that President Trump’s skepticism is entirely justified.


EDITED TO ADD: It’s nice to see that others have noted similar issues with the new death toll claims – and not just for local reasons, but national politics as well.

EDITED AGAIN TO ADD: Welcome, Instapundit readers! Nice to have you here.


  1. Close all immigration from PR.

    At the next State Of the Union, announce that the desire is to grant the island it's full and permanent independence this July 4th.

    Throw them a great party, and wave good riddance, er, I mean bye.

    Next problem.

  2. Oh, go ahead and pay them, then charge them a $1,000 per bottle of water or MRE or emergency supply not distributed. That would put them farther in the hole than ever before.

    They don't want to be productive citizens. They want to be a whole island of welfare queens of one form or another.

    My nephew was deployed down there as part of a NatGuard construction unit. He said they sat most of the time because the local and territory government refusing to let them do their darned jobs. Same with many of the electrical line workers.

    If we keep them as part of a US Territory, we need to go back to a government assigned by Washington. Governor General from outside PR, upper level management from outside PR. And, seize back Roosevelt Roads and the naval gunnery range.

    Else, cut them loose. They can become a province of Mexico or Cuba for all I care, since the military need of having them as part of us went away when the aforementioned Roosevelt Roads was deactivated.

  3. I believe it is time to let PR go its own way(like california?)and we should set them free from the terrible yoke of the US Federal government trying to tell the territory how it should govern itself. This has always been a goal of more than one PR nationalist political movement. at one time they brought a machine gun into the US Congress and gunned down legislators. I, as a US citizen demand we give back to the People of PR the rights to pursue their own destiny as they themselves see fit. truly it is the only moral and correct and lawful course of action that the United States of America can take.
    Or am I wrong?

  4. I think they had dead people on a tropical island, no electricity, roads closed most of their world trashed.
    I think they did was most would do, they buried them.

    The statics game looks like a reasonable way to get a number.
    Did the dems do it on purpose to give still more bad press to the President? Probably not this time but I've no doubt they would do it.

    Something was really wrong on that island before the storm. Burying the dead after a natural disaster without "official" paperwork seem really likely to me.

  5. When we give the islands their freedom, I strongly urge that we gather up all of them in the NY/NJ regions and send them back home, too. They are no better than the swarms coming across our southern border. After they reached southern NJ, the place looked like Beirut. Burned out, boarded up, tagged, and desolate. Hmm, now that I think about it, it looked like PR!

  6. We as a nation were foolish enough to extend PR statehood privileges without making them a state. We took a banana republic and allowed them self-rule but without self-determination and any sorts of requirement for self-support. PR has always been a client state. Why would any of what happened be a surprise? You set policies, you provide free stuff and you develop a welfare nation-state made up almost exclusively of a dependent class. What did we expect? We created this mess and worse, we cultivated the ground for it very carefully. What can the average Puerto Rican do, in the face of a subsidized economy where entrepreneurship is nearly impossible except in resource harvest and service industry, both subject to US interference, regulation and competition?

    I wish I had the answers to any of these things. Placing the island into receivership probably makes the most sense, but that would make everyone soggy and hard to light. Puerto Rico has certainly shown themselves to be utterly incompetent to self-govern under our system.

  7. Give the voters of Puerto Rico a very clear choice:
    1. Throw out the banana republic pols currently in office, to be replaced with a US military government for at least a decade, or
    2. Cut all ties, and go it on your own as an independent nation.

  8. Why don't we let them be their own country?

    I remember when PR was sending convicted felons to Florida that included killers and drug criminals. What is important is that the PR officials NEVER told anyone in Florida including Florida government or immigration or police officials what they were doing.

    I also remember how PR decided they didn't like having the Navy gyn range there and demanded we remove it. Then, after we did so they complained about the loss of jobs and revenue for PR.

    Are you kidding me?

  9. If you go in and actually do the work of identifying the dead, that person's family knows. There is a very human sense of emotional settling in the process. The Puerto Rican government does not want that because part of that process will be causation and an accurate settling of accounts as to how much of the bad actions were originated right on the island from local actors, ie themselves.

    Much better to keep things vague as far as their concerned so that the relatives don't feel any special urgency to clean house.


  10. This really shouldn't be a statistical estimate. With few exceptions, every single person being cited as dying should have living relatives who will know them by name, and if it's really a civilized place there should be a death certificate. What they're saying is that if someone died last winter or spring in a car accident, it's because of Maria. Not because of drunk driving, mechanical failure, or any other mechanism.

    Without seeing the study to see how well they controlled for it, any number of confounding situations could account for some of the death toll.

  11. It's the lazy, and dishonest, way of promoting an idea, instead of using actual data, which would be easy to obtain, if there were people honest enough to provide the information.

  12. Saint Croix got hit by the same storm. Same damage. Ninety percent of the buildings destroyed. Power knocked down.

    But the thing is though, Saint Croix top social issue today, a year after the hurricane, according to the Wikipedia page for SC, is an influx of Puerto Rican immigrants.

    Tells the entire story of the different mind set between people responding to a crisis.

  13. Paul, Dammit.

    The whole reason for the US involvement in the PR was to secure a naval base in the SE Carribean, a coaling then a fueling station and a way to project Manifest Destiny and, well, fight pirates and such. Once the citizens of PR took the base back, they have become useless to the US. They have chosen… poorly.

  14. I have no doubt that some 3000 people did in fact die as a result of conditions created by the hurricanes. The trouble is that most of those are going to have been entirely preventable deaths caused by a collapsing infrastructure while all the aid was pissed away. I don't think the death toll is the scandal, the scandal is in why it's that high, and the hurricane was merely a catalyst.

  15. "…while all the aid was pissed away."

    What makes you think this? Most all of it arrives in durable packaging known as "shipping containers". I'm sure that some of it is still sitting there in fenced in, guarded compounds, waiting for the right opportunity to be sold on the local market. Some of it was probably tossed onto another ship soon after arriving, to be moved to a more active market that will pay a reasonable percentage of value.
    It hasn't been wasted!

  16. Whether it's New Orleans or Puerto Rico, Democratic governance over a long period of time leads to corruption and neglect of obvious precautions against known threats.

  17. when i was married 44 years ago i went to nyc for the first time.
    grafitti everywhere 'free puerto rico'.
    had never seen a puerto rican before.
    they should have freed them then!
    would have saved a lot of headaches.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *