Maria set off months of pain, death in Puerto Rico

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - WORLD -

Ra­mona Gon­za­lez did not drown when Hur­ri­cane Maria drenched Puerto Rico. She did not die in the tem­pest, or from de­struc­tion wrought by the storm’s 154 mph (248 kph) winds.

Instead, this dis­abled, 59-yearold woman died a month later, from sep­sis - caused, says her fam­ily, by an un­treated bed­sore.

In all, the storm and its af­ter­math took the lives of un­for­tu­nates like Gon­za­lez and thou­sands of oth­ers, many of whom could have been saved with stan­dard med­i­cal treat­ment. This was a slow-mo­tion, months-long dis­as­ter that kept Puerto Ri­cans from get­ting the care they needed for treat­able ail­ments, even as Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump lauded his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­sponse.

A year af­ter Maria roared across the Caribbean, re­porters for The As­so­ci­ated Press, the news site Quartz and Puerto Rico’s Cen­ter for In­ves­tiga­tive Jour­nal­ism have put to­gether the In this Sept. 28, 2017, photo, the rub­ble of homes are scat­tered in the af­ter­math of hur­ri­cane Maria in Toa Alta, Puerto Rico, one week af­ter the storm hit. Puerto Rico’s gov­er­nor said one year af­ter the storm that his ad­min­is­tra­tion has adopted new mea­sures to bet­ter pre­pare for a dis­as­ter like Maria al­though he warned of lim­i­ta­tions given the U.S. ter­ri­tory’s eco­nomic cri­sis.

most de­tailed por­trait yet of the ag­o­niz­ing fi­nal days of vic­tims of the storm, in­ter­view­ing 204 fam­i­lies of the dead and re­view­ing ac­counts of 283 more to tell the sto­ries of hereto­fore anony­mous vic­tims.

Trump cast doubt on the storm’s widely ac­cepted death toll Thurs­day, tweet­ing that “3000

peo­ple did not die” when Maria hit af­ter a near-miss by Hur­ri­cane Irma in Septem­ber, 2017. He said the death count had been in­flated “by the Democrats in or­der to make me look as bad as pos­si­ble,” by adding un­re­lated deaths to the toll from causes like old age.

But the joint in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­flects how Puerto Rico’s most vul­ner­a­ble fell vic­tim to dire con­di­tions cre­ated by the storms.

Dis­abled and el­derly peo­ple were dis­charged from over­whelmed hos­pi­tals with bed­sores that led to fa­tal in­fec­tions. Med­i­cal oxy­gen ran out. Peo­ple caught lung in­fec­tions in swel­ter­ing pri­vate nurs­ing homes and state fa­cil­i­ties. Kid­ney pa­tients got ab­bre­vi­ated treat­ments from dial­y­sis cen­tres that lacked gen­er­a­tor fuel and fresh wa­ter, de­spite pleas for fed­eral and local of­fi­cials to treat them as a higher pri­or­ity, ac­cord­ing to pa­tient ad­vo­cates.

There was Ernesto Curiel, a di­a­betic who died of a heart at­tack af­ter weeks of walk­ing 10 flights twice a day to fetch in­sulin from his build­ing’s only work­ing re­frig­er­a­tor. Ale­jan­dro Gon­za­lez Vazquez, 47 - un­able to ob­tain his anti-psychotic med­i­ca­tion, he com­mit­ted sui­cide instead of board­ing his flight back to the U.S. main­land. Juana Cas­tro Rivera, 52, dead of lep­tospiro­sis, a dis­ease trans­mit­ted by con­tam­i­nated wa­ter. Af­ter sev­eral vis­its to a com­mu­nity clinic, she was di­ag­nosed - too late - by a hospi­tal in a neigh­bour­ing mu­nic­i­pal­ity.

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