In a post-hurricane report that was prepared back in July, the government of Puerto Rico has admitted that more than 1,400 deaths occurred on the island in the wake of Hurricane Maria–a figure more than twenty times the previously reported official death toll.
Officials in Puerto Rico compiled the data for a report to Congress titled “Transformation and Innovation in the Wake of Devastation,” that will accompany a request for $139 billion in aid which is set to be released today — nearly a year after the September 2017 hurricane that ravaged the island and many of its natural resources and halted tourism for months, destroying its most important industry.
While the official death toll reported by the Puerto Rico Department of Public Safety has remained at just 64 people for months, information contained in the new report says as many 1,427 people suffered storm-related deaths. This number comes from government reports suggesting that there were that many more deaths than normal on the island in the four months immediately after the hurricane compared to the previous year.
The data has been corroborated by independent researchers who analyzed vital statistics and also found that about 1,000 more people died in September and October 2017, mostly in places that were along Hurricane Maria’s path and rural areas in the mountains. The report promises the government will update the figures upon the completion of a George Washington University study later this month.
Though the language in the recent report skirts around labeling the 1,427 deaths as the official toll, it is expected that once the George Washington University study is completed it will be confirmed. “We definitely acknowledge this is a realistic estimate,” Pedro Cerame of Puerto Rico’s Federal Affairs Administration told the New York Times. “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. But until we see the study, and have the accuracy, we won’t be able to recognize the number as official,” he said.
The Puerto Rican government has been under scrutiny regarding the official death toll for many months, as critics realized that many more people were dying from causes indirectly related to the storm and subsequent and ongoing power outages in the months after the storm, including the the lack of accessible medical facilities and electricity to run oxygen machines, life support machines, etc. Many even accused the government of trying to hide or cover up the actual number of deaths attributed to the hurricane, which prompted a court ruling demanding that the government release all death certificates issued after the storm.