The FEMA website has been an important tool for keeping people up to date on disaster recovery efforts in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. But yesterday, the agency deleted statistics about how many people have access to electricity and clean water on the island. The FEMA website now only displays information that casts the recovery efforts in a positive light.
A Puerto Rican who still relies on generators for power checks her phone on her rooftop at dusk on October 5, 2017 in San Isidro, Puerto Rico. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
On Thursday, just five per cent of Puerto Rico had electricity and only 50 per cent had water. That information was readily available on the FEMA website as late as Thursday afternoon. But now it's gone, while more positive information, such as statistics about the percentage of hospitals open (92 per cent) and the percentage of grocery stores open (65 per cent), are still being made available.
The internet archiving tool The Wayback Machine gives us a look at precisely what was deleted. As you can see from an October 3 snapshot, there's information about water availability, among other things, under the header "Water/Wastewater Impacts". But today, that section was scrubbed to include just one statistic: The percentage of waste water treatments that are functioning (64 per cent).
The same is true of information about power restoration in Puerto Rico. On October 3 the website showed statistics such as the percentage of people with power on the island. That information has been deleted.
The FEMA website about recovery efforts in Puerto Rico as it appeared on 3 October 2017 (highlighting added by Gizmodo)
Positive statistics about the number of federal staff (14,000) and FEMA personnel (800) on the ground are still available on the website, though it obviously doesn't mention that it took over a week after Hurricane Marla made landfall for those people to arrive. More information about the airports being open (100 per cent) and the kilometres of roadway cleared thus far (32km) are also prominently featured.
Earlier this week the FEMA site used to have an infographic about the recovery efforts, but that image has been replaced by a photo of helicopters delivering relief supplies and another of a Puerto Rican resident hugging a soldier.
The FEMA website about recovery efforts in Puerto Rico as it appears today
A FEMA spokesperson told the Washington Post that the information which has been scrubbed is still available in Spanish on a website maintained by the Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rosselló at www.status.pr. But FEMA had no explanation for why the federal agency was deleting information from its own site that made it look bad.
Both FEMA and President Trump have come under fire for their inadequate response to the disaster in Puerto Rico. When the president visited the island earlier this week he seemed most concerned with how he was being perceived in the news media, rather than in efficiently delivering aid. Trump even joked with the storm-ravaged people that he was spending too much money on them.
"I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you are throwing our budget out of whack," Trump said. "We've spent a lot of money in Puerto Rico."
Elmer Vasquez Colon, 80, sheds tears due to pain after not having medication for one month since two hurricanes passed through the area as he lays in his bed at the Pedro America Pagan de Colon assisted living facility in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria on 1 October 2017 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Members of the First Medical Relief team visited the complex and said the residents need water and many are hungry and have not been able to get all their medication. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
President Trump also said that the hurricane in Puerto Rico wasn't a "real catastrophe" like Hurricane Katrina, an obvious fear that his response to Puerto Rico is being compared to President George W. Bush's horrible response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
"If you look at the... every death is a horror, but if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina and you look at the tremendous hundreds and hundreds of people that died and what happened here with a storm that was just totally overbearing. No one has ever seen anything like that. What is your death count?" he said.
"Sixteen," said Governor Ricardo Rosselló.
"Sixteen certified," Trump said, telling the group in Puerto Rico that they should be "very proud".
President Donald Trump and Melania Trump arrive on Air Force One at the Muniz Air National Guard Base for a visit after Hurricane Maria hit the island on 3 October 2017 in Carolina, Puerto Rico (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
"Our mission is to support the governor and his response priorities through the unified command structure to help Puerto Ricans recover and return to routines," FEMA spokesman William Booher told the Washington Post. "Information on the stats you are specifically looking for are readily available."
The information might be "readily available". Just not from anyone in the federal government any more.