In a recently released updated death toll completed by Harvard researchers, it’s estimated that a staggering 4,645 lives were lost in Puerto Rico during Hurricane Maria. That’s 70 times the official death toll released by the U.S. government. In response to this news, hundreds of pairs of shoes are now on display in San Juan to memorialize the lives lost.
The moving photos show shoes ranging from sneakers to dress shoes to baby slippers, displaying a heartbreaking memorial to those who died as a result of the hurricane.
The memorial also serves as a protest of sorts — the U.S. government’s toll of lives lost in their “official” report totals only 64 people, the number of people who died during the actual storm. That number — grossly inaccurate — doesn’t include the thousands of people who died due to lack of medical care, power outages, and impassable roads.
Mis zapatos al lado de los tuyos. Mi cuerpo cerca de ti. Contigo hoy y siempre ¡porque se trata de amor y justicia! ♥️🌿 pic.twitter.com/tHvx7V2w43
— Mercedes Rodríguez (@MercedesPsic) June 1, 2018
The Harvard researchers completed interviews conducted in Puerto Rico, and found that a 60% increase in mortality rates occurred in the three months post-hurricane.
Many Puerto Ricans feel even the updated number of 4,645 most likely isn’t accurate. Ani Sanchez, a woman who brought a pair of shoes to the memorial, tells NPR that every person should be counted and acknowledged. “Because if you were here and you saw your neighbors die because they couldn’t go down the stairs, and old people left behind, we have to let them know that they were not forgotten.”
Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, which means the it’s the job of the U.S. government to ensure they received our help during a natural disaster. Following the hurricane, Donald Trump ignored the mayor of Puerto Rico’s pleas for help, mocked their accent, and when he eventually did show up — very briefly — he tossed around a few paper towels and basically called it a day.
Citizens of Puerto Rico were trying to survive without the most basic needs: food, clean drinking water, electricity, and access to safe shelter and medical care. The storm knocked out power to a majority of the island for months.
And we did nothing.
Eight months after the storm, more than 10,000 homes are still without electricity — many people are fixing power lines themselves.
The death toll is expected to continue to grow, as is the impromptu shoe memorial. As hurricane season quickly approaches once again, we can only hope our government is not just better prepared to serve those who will be affected, but will also answer for the gross incompetence that led to thousands of lives lost amid Hurricane Maria.
Is there any reason at all there shouldn’t be a 9/11-style commission to investigate just what happened in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of the hurricane?
— Chris Hayes (@chrislhayes) June 1, 2018