Puerto Rico Governor Orders Probe Into Deaths Reported Since Hurricane Maria

06/23/2017 El gobernador Ricardo Rosselló durante su alocución a los camaristas durante la convención de la Cámara de Comercio el el Hotel Conquistador en Fajardo. Fotos por Ingrid Torres (GDA via AP Images)

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Puerto Rico’s governor on Monday ordered authorities to review all deaths reported since Hurricane Maria hit nearly three months ago amid accusations that the U.S. territory has vastly undercounted storm-related deaths.

Gov. Ricardo Rossello said in a statement that it’s possible the toll is higher than the 64 deaths currently blamed on the Category 4 hurricane that hit on Sept. 20 with winds of up to 154 mph (248 kph), causing up to an estimated $95 billion in damage.

“We always expected that the number of hurricane-related deaths would increase as we received more factual information — not hearsay— and this review will ensure we are correctly counting everybody,” he said. “We also want the most accurate count and understanding of how people lost their lives to fully account for the impact of these storms, and to identify ways in which we can prevent fatalities in advance of future disasters.”

Previously, Rossello’s administration had repeatedly defended the official count of hurricane-related deaths even though demographers said a spike in the average number of deaths after the hurricane was not normal.

While the current death toll includes some who died of heart attacks, suicide and respiratory failure, critics say it fails to account for all of those for which the storm and the hardships it caused were contributing factors.

Relatives of victims note that the storm left the entire island of 3.4 million people without power, including hospitals and nursing homes caring for people on respirators or other electric equipment.

Officials have said the average number of daily deaths increased from 82 to 117 after the storm, with a total of 2,838 deaths reported in September, a 20 percent increase from the 2,366 deaths reported for the same month in 2016 and up from 2,242 in September 2015.

Rossello said the government has to investigate whether the increase in deaths is directly or indirectly tied to Hurricane Maria.

“Every life is more than a number, and every death must have a name and vital information attached to it, as well as an accurate accounting of the facts related to their passing,” he said.

Officials with the government’s forensic institute have said many recent death certificates they received did not state whether lack of power could have been a factor.

Dear Reader,

When we asked recently what makes TPM different from other outlets, readers cited factors like honesty, curiosity, transparency, and our vibrant community. They also pointed to our ability to report on important stories and trends long before they are picked up by mainstream outlets; our ability to contextualize information within the arc of history; and our focus on the real-world consequences of the news.

Our unique approach to reporting and presenting the news, however, wouldn’t be possible without our readers’ support. That’s not just marketing speak, it’s true: our work would literally not be possible without readers deciding to become members. Not only does member support account for more than 80% of TPM’s revenue, our members have helped us build an engaged and informed community. Many of our best stories were born from reader tips and valuable member feedback.

We do what other news outlets can’t or won’t do because our members’ support gives us real independence.

If you enjoy reading TPM and value what we do, become a member today.

Latest News
Comments
Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Associate Editor:
Investigations Desk:
Reporters:
Newswriter:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Publisher:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Associate Publisher:
Front End Developer:
Senior Designer: