Following numerous reports that Hurricane Maria's death toll in Puerto Rico has been drastically under-counted by more than one thousand casualties, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló ordered an official recount of deaths related to the storm.
"This is about more than numbers, these are lives: real people, leaving behind loved ones and families," said Rosselló in a statement on Monday. "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."
Analysis by the New York Times has shown that the hurricane has led to far more casualties than the 64 that have been officially reported. While relatively few deaths may have been directly caused by the storm, the Times found that between Maria's landfall on September 20 and early December, 1,052 more Puerto Ricans had died than had over the same period of time in 2016.
The Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI), based on the island, found an even bigger discrepancy, reporting that 1,065 more people had died in September and October than in the previous year—a rise in mortality that could only be attributed to the storm, said the group. CPI blamed the huge gap in reporting on "the poor methodology being used to analyze and account for cases."
The higher-than-reported death toll is likely related to a lack of clean drinking water for many residents and the power outage that is still affecting nearly a third of the island.
While President Donald Trump insisted in early October that 16 people had died as a result of Hurricane Maria, 556 more deaths than usual had been counted by demographers since the storm. Around the same time, at least one million people were resorting to drinking water from Superfund sites and hospitals were struggling to care for people with diabetes, kidney disease, and other conditions, amid the power outage.
Rosselló has previously stood by the official count of 64 deaths. On social media, critics praised his call for a review of the death toll.
Puerto Rico “official” death toll is 64, while NYT and Vox put it closer to 1,000. Trump has done nothing to help these Americans. He must be held accountable! https://t.co/T07Cj7LvZH— Amy Siskind (@Amy_Siskind) December 18, 2017
It goes against all common sense, and reported estimations, for @POTUS or any other official to continue claiming that the Maria death toll in Puerto Rico is below 100—or even below 1,000. Ending this deliberate erasure of lives has been long overdue. https://t.co/Iic4j6gBDn— Jamil Smith (@JamilSmith) December 18, 2017