President Trump's Hurricane Maria Tweets Stir Up Emotions for Minnesotans with Puerto Rico Ties

September 13, 2018 10:29 PM

President Donald Trump on Thursday rejected the widely accepted conclusion that nearly 3,000 died in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria, arguing without evidence that the number was wrong and calling it a plot by Democrats to make him look bad.

As Hurricane Florence approached the Carolinas, the president picked a fresh fight over the administration's response in Puerto Rico, tweeting: "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."


RELATED: Trump Rejects Puerto Rico Hurricane Death Toll, Blames Dems

Abby Garcia did not see the president’s tweet until she got off work Thursday evening. She disagreed with his interpretation.    

"No that's not possible. That is impossible," Garcia said.

Hurricane Maria stirs up deep emotions for Garcia, who lives in the east metro, but whose daughter was in college in Puerto Rico at the time. Other family also live on the island.

"I still cry. Every time I talk to someone about it, it’s still hard for me," Garcia said. 

RELATED: Report: Nearly 3,000 Deaths in Puerto Rico Linked to Hurricane Maria

Nearly four months after Maria hit land, Garcia’s mother, Aida, got sick and went to a central Puerto Rico hospital.

"They didn't have the equipment -- they didn't have lights or water," said Garcia.

Her 70-year-old mother died in February.

Garcia showed 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS pictures she took when she returned to the island for the funeral of downed power lines and damaged buildings in her mother’s community.

RELATED: Displaced by Hurricane Maria, Puerto Ricans Receive Help in Twin Cities

Garcia said she felt her mother’s death was connected to Hurricane Maria. 

Puerto Rico's governor last month raised the U.S. territory's official death toll from Hurricane Maria from 64 to 2,975 after an independent study found that the number of people who succumbed in the sweltering aftermath had been severely undercounted.

The estimate of nearly 3,000 dead in the six months after Maria devastated the island in September 2017 and knocked out the entire electrical grid was made by researchers with the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University. The study says the original estimates were so low because doctors on the island had not been trained to properly classify deaths after a natural disaster.

"The anxiety is still there, people are still recovering," said Melisa Franzen, who just returned from Puerto Rico.

RELATED: 6 Months After Maria, Minnesotans Travel to Puerto Rico to Help

Franzen grew up on the island, moved to Minnesota, serves in the state Senate and has helped coordinate relief efforts from the Twin Cities. 

“The Coalición de Boricuas en Minnesota was literally started by texting, 'Have you heard from your family?' and we got started trying to do something," Franzen said. 

Since the 2017 hurricane, Franzen has been back to Puerto Rico five times -- mostly recently earlier this week, where she saw long lines for drinking water at a store.

"The infrastructure is still lingering, the roads are still bad, the bridges are still compromised,” Franzen said. “It's going to be a long recovery from that standpoint."  

A community advocate estimated that around 115 families from Puerto Rico have relocated to Minnesota.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Eric Chaloux

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