The situation in Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria hit this past September has been devastating. Homes were destroyed, power outages were out (and still are in certain parts of the island), and food and fresh water was scarce. No one has known for sure how many people died though, but it looks like we’ll find out soon because a court ruling is demanding that Puerto Rico’s government release all death certificates issued after the hurricane hit the island.
The death toll after Hurricane Maria was predicted to be around 64 but the court believes that the number is actually a lot higher than that, which is why it wants Puerto Rico to turn over information regarding death records—everything from burial and even cremation permits that were issued after the storm.
“The information … is public by nature,” Judge Lauracelis Roques wrote. “People still don’t have a clear picture as to how many lives were lost due to a lack of food, medicine, health services or simply because of an ineffective response to an emergency. That’s why it’s urgent to shed light on all components of government preparedness and response.”
The information will be released sooner rather than later because the court is only giving the government seven days to release the information. In fact, the death records and related data are supposed to be released specifically to CNN and local journalism organizations that have been investigating the death toll from the hurricane.
CNN and the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI) in Puerto Rico even sued the government for access. If you’re wondering where all this suspicion regarding death tolls comes from, CNN surveyed 112 funeral homes throughout Puerto Rico back in November. Despite the fact that the island has claimed a death toll of 64, the news outlet had funeral home directors identify at least 499 deaths that are believed to have been caused by the hurricane. There is a massive difference between 499 and 64. Those are 435 deaths that aren’t being counted for.
If you think that number is big, it could potentially be even higher. Harvard University just published a study that included interviews from more than 3,000 households in Puerto Rico that suggest that there were more than 4,600 hurricane-related deaths.
It’s been eight months since the storm hit and yet the process to receive accurate death toll numbers has been way too long a wait. It’s about time these numbers get released.