The death toll in Puerto Rico as a result of Hurricane Maria was severely underestimated, according to a new report, prompting the U.S. territory’s governor to order an official recount.
According to the report from the Center for Investigative Journalism, the actual death toll on the island in the wake of the storm exceeded 1,000 people, in contrast to the previously reported 64. Other news outlets published similar findings in recent weeks, including the New York Times, which found that 1,052 people Puerto Ricans lost their lives from Maria, according to mortality data from Puerto Rico’s statistics bureau.
Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló told the Washington Post last week that his government did not intentionally misstate its estimate in order to conceal a higher death toll.
“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,” Rosselló said in a statement Monday, according to the Post.
In Puerto Rico’s official recount, Rosselló is calling on all of the island’s government agencies to reopen their books and examine certified deaths using medical records, interviews with family members and doctors, and more, in order to reclassify the actual death toll. One of the keys is to determine whether deaths categorized as “natural” were actually caused by the storm.
Almost three months have passed since Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico. Thousands remain without power and vital supplies, including the sick and elderly who rely on medical equipment to stay alive.
The 64 people who were counted as part of the official death toll include people who drowned in floods, were trapped in mudslides, died of heart attacks and other medical conditions, and suffered injuries from falling debris.
Rosselló in his statement said that while he welcomes analyses from news organizations, the government “cannot base any official fatality related to the hurricane count on statistical analysis.”
“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 in the statement.