Daily Archives: Aug 10, 2018

    SAN JUAN, P.R. — The government of Puerto Rico quietly acknowledged in a report posted online that in all likelihood more than 1,400 people died in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria — a figure that is more than 20 times the official death toll.

    Hurricane Maria cut through the island on Sept. 20, knocking out power and initially killing about a dozen people. The government’s official count eventually grew to 64, as more people died from suicide, bacterial diseases, lack of access to health care and other factors. The number has not changed despite several academic assessments concluding that death certificates did not come close to tallying the storm’s fatal toll.

    But in a draft of a report to Congress requesting $139 billion in recovery funds, the Puerto Rican government admitted that 1,427 more people died in the last four months of 2017 compared with the same time frame in the previous four years. The figures came from death registry statistics that were released in June, but which were never publicly acknowledged by officials on the island.

    The increase was enormous, particularly considering that Puerto Rico’s population has declined considerably in the past few years.

    “Although the official death count from the Puerto Rico Department of Public Safety was initially 64, the toll appears to be much higher,” said the report, titled “Transformation and Innovation in the Wake of Devastation.”

    In another section, it said: “According to initial reports, 64 lives were lost. That estimate was later revised to 1,427.”

    The 400-page report was posted online in July and sat largely unnoticed for weeks. When The New York Times posted an article about it on Thursday, the government quickly pushed back on the information contained in its own report.

    “That number was not the result of an independent study — it is simple math,” Héctor Pesquera, the secretary of public safety, said in a statement. “This is not the official number of deaths attributable to Hurricane Maria.”

    Mr. Pesquera said the government was anticipating the official results from a study by George Washington University in the coming weeks. “Once the study is released, the government of Puerto Rico will update the official number,” he said. “We owe it to the people of Puerto Rico to have a precise number, along with the data we need to make better preparations for future disaster situations.”

    The 400-page report was posted online in July and sat largely unnoticed for weeks. When The New York Times posted an article about it on Thursday, the government quickly pushed back on the information contained in its own report.

    “That number was not the result of an independent study — it is simple math,” Héctor Pesquera, the secretary of public safety, said in a statement. “This is not the official number of deaths attributable to Hurricane Maria.”

    Mr. Pesquera said the government was anticipating the official results from a study by George Washington University in the coming weeks. “Once the study is released, the government of Puerto Rico will update the official number,” he said. “We owe it to the people of Puerto Rico to have a precise number, along with the data we need to make better preparations for future disaster situations.”

    The government, and Mr. Pesquera in particular, was widely criticized for undercounting the number of people who died on the island as the power outage stretched for months, causing deaths from diabetes and sepsis to soar. Many people died from lack of access to hospitals, or because there was no power to run the machines they used to breathe.

    Even in the face of mounting evidence from funeral directors around the island, Mr. Pesquera had insisted that unless doctors certified on a patient’s death certificate that the storm contributed to the person’s death, the person would not be counted.

    After a New York Times analysis in December showed that even the preliminary data from the Demographic Registry of Puerto Rico indicated that deaths had risen by 1,052, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló hired George Washington University’s school of public health on a $305,000 contract to conduct an analysis. The report, now three months overdue, is expected to be released at the end of the month.

    “We definitely acknowledge this is a realistic estimate,” Pedro Cerame, a spokesman for the Puerto Rican government’s Federal Affairs Administration, said of the numbers in the report to Congress. “We don’t want to say it out loud or publicize it as an official number. The official number will come, and it could be close.”

    The final version of the report, released Thursday, hedged the language to say that the additional deaths “may or may not be attributable” to the storm; the 1,427 figure was also deleted from a chart.

    “I want to emphasize, though, that we have always expected the number to be higher,” Mr. Cerame said in an email. “The estimate provided was done using data from the Demographic Registry, which was made available to the members of the media.”

    A much-publicized study from Harvard University showed the deaths could have ranged from 800 to 8,500. Alexis R. Santos, a demographer at Pennsylvania State University, concluded that between 1,006 and 1,272 died.

    The mounting evidence compiled by researchers and investigative reporters “should have prompted a quicker response,” Professor Santos said.

    “The report requested by the government will be published one month before the first anniversary of Hurricane Maria,” he said. “That is certainly not a quick response.”

    The final version of the recovery plan being submitted to Congress outlines ambitious projects for Puerto Rico that include major highway renovations, $15 billion for the Department of Education and $26 billion for the energy grid. The government has asked for $6 billion for repair and replacement of public buildings and $3.9 billion for environmental use, according to an announcement from the governor’s office.

    “Puerto Rico has a unique opportunity to innovate and rebuild the Puerto Rico that we all want,” Governor Rosselló said in a statement.

      FILE PHOTO: Heyer's death capped a day of clashes after hundreds of white supremacists, neo-Nazis and others descended upon the city, drawing national attention to the "alt right" movement that had grown bolder since President Donald Trump's election. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith

      (Reuters) – Joan Fenton knows she will not make much money at her Charlottesville gift shop this weekend, when the downtown district will be virtually locked down for the anniversary of last year’s deadly white nationalist rally. But like many other owners, she will be open anyway.

      “They want to be open in solidarity with the community,” Fenton said. “They feel that not being here is giving in to fear and terror.”

      Officials in Charlottesville have vowed a massive police presence – with some 1,000 personnel assigned – to deter any violence.

      The “Unite the Right” rally last August, called to protest the removal of a Confederate statue, turned the picturesque Virginia college town into a chaotic scene of street brawls, and one woman was killed when an Ohio man rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters.

      The organizer of last year’s event, white nationalist Jason Kessler, was denied a permit in Charlottesville this year but has secured permission to hold a demonstration on Sunday in Washington, across the street from the White House.

      Washington officials said on Thursday that police were ready for the rally as well as three planned counter-protests that could attract close to 2,000 people in all.

      Officers will endeavor to keep the two sides separate, Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham said. Guns will be prohibited from the demonstration area.

      Amid continuing controversy over President Donald Trump’s views on race, the events will likely revive memories of his comments after Charlottesville when he said both sides were to blame for the violence. The remarks sparked criticism from across the political spectrum as Trump refused to condemn the white nationalists.

      In Charlottesville, officials have announced an unprecedented lockdown of the bustling downtown district. Vehicles are prohibited, and pedestrians will be allowed in at only two checkpoints, where police will confiscate contraband.

      Prohibited items include everything from metal pipes and swords to fireworks and skateboards.

      Guns, however, can still be legally carried. After last year’s violence, the city asked the state legislature to ban firearms from major public events, but the bill failed to advance.

      It is not clear whether any white nationalists will come to Charlottesville this weekend, but officials said they were preparing for any contingency. Police were widely criticized after last year’s event, where some officers did not intervene to stop fistfights and other mayhem.

      Virginia Governor Ralph Northam preemptively declared a state of emergency on Wednesday, a procedural move that freed up additional resources.

      Many business owners have said the plan is too restrictive and will cost them significant revenue on what would normally be a busy summer weekend. Merchants already suffered a downturn after last year’s event; sales tax revenue dropped 11 percent in September 2017 compared with the year before, according to city figures.

       

        Investors look at computer screens in front of an electronic board showing stock information at a brokerage house in Shanghai, China, July 14, 2015. REUTERS/Aly Song/Files

        LONDON (Reuters) – A plunge in the Turkish lira rocked global equities and emerging markets on Friday, and fears of more turmoil sent investors scurrying for safety in assets like the yen and U.S. government bonds.

        The lira fell as much as 14 percent against the dollar, chalking up its worst day since Turkey’s financial crisis of 2001. It came on the back of a deepening rift with the United States, worries about its own economy and lack of action from policymakers.

        The currency is now down more than 36 percent this year, and 17 percent this month alone, fanning worries about a full-blown economic crisis.

        “It is hard to pinpoint the point of no return (for Turkey and the lira)” said Tilmann Kolb in the Chief Investment Office at UBS Wealth Management.

        Bank shares across the continent fell and the euro slipped to its lowest since July 2017 as the Financial Times quoted sources as saying that the European Central Bank was concerned about European lenders’ exposure to Turkey.

        Shares in France’s BNP Paribas, Italy’s UniCredit and Spain’s BBVA, the banks seen as most exposed to Turkey, fell as much as 4 percent.

        That took euro zone bank shares down 1.3 percent while the pan-European STOXX 600 index fell 0.7 percent. [.EU]

        “People looking at things this morning are much more aware that there is central (major) contagion risk,” said David Owen, chief European economist at Jeffries in London.

        “Having said that, what’s happening in emerging markets is leading to risk-free rates being bid for and that includes Treasuries, Bunds and gilts.”

        Emerging market currencies slide: tmsnrt.rs/2vzelu5

        The MSCI All-Country World index, which tracks shares in 47 countries, was also down 0.6 percent on the day, having erased all its gains for the week. Wall Street was set for a weak open.

        As investors piled into “safe” bonds, German yields hit three-week lows and yields on U.S. 10-year Treasuries fell to 2.8913 percent.

        Investors are now awaiting the release of U.S. consumer price inflation data for July for clues on the interest rate outlook and to gauge if new import tariffs were starting to have an impact. The data is expected to show inflation increased 0.2 percent, after rising 0.1 percent in June.

        The Australian dollar, often viewed as a gauge of global risk appetite due to its reliance on commodities, was the biggest faller among developed currencies, down 1 percent on the day. Going in the opposite direction was the safe-haven Japanese yen, which hit a one-month high against the dollar.

        The dollar index, which measures the greenback’s strength against a group of six major currencies, breached 96, taking it to its highest level since July 2017.

        Adding to emerging market currency woes was the Russian rouble, which weakened to 67.12 to the dollar. Overnight it had retreated to its lowest since November 2016 on threats of new U.S. sanctions, weakening beyond the psychologically important 65-per-dollar threshold.

        “Other EM currencies have held their ground against the dollar, having generally been weakening previously,” said analysts at Capital Economics.

        “In most cases though, we suspect that this resilience will prove temporary,” they said, highlighting expectations of rising U.S. interest rates and worries over growing U.S. protectionism.

        In commodities, U.S. crude oil rose 0.25 percent to $66.99 a barrel, while Brent crude was 0.4 percent stronger at $73.33 per barrel.

        Despite the widespread flight to safe-haven assets, spot gold fell 0.2 percent to $1,210 per ounce.

        Buffalo Construction Consultants, Inc. is currently seeking contracts with experience delivering high quality construction.  Female and minority companies are strongly encouraged to participate.

        What: Emerson School of Hospitality II 

        Where: 75 W Huron Street, Buffalo, NY 14202

        The construction project includes the transformation of the existing C.W. Miller Livery Building into a new educational facility focused on the culinary and hospitality sectors operated by the Buffalo City School District.  A 5,000 square foot Gymnasium Addition will also be constructed and attached to the existing structure.  Work must comply with the U.S. Secretary of Interior Standards for Historic Restoration and Preservation.  All contractors are to familiarize themselves with these standards. 

        Bidders can access the contract documents from the Construction Exchange on-line plan room or have them printed from Reprocraft, 136 Broadway Street, Buffalo, NY 14203. 

        Bids are due to Buffalo Construction Consultants, Inc. no later than 2 pm on August 16, 2018. 

        For more information contact Mark Wendling at 716-517-5867 or mwendling@buffaloconstruct.com.

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