From 64 to 1,400: Puerto Rico Concedes Hurricane Maria Death Toll

by | August 10, 2018

By Kate Feldman

Almost 11 months after Hurricane Maria decimated Puerto Rico, officials have conceded that more than 1,400 people were likely killed by the storm, a dramatic rise from the official death toll of 64.

A report to Congress posted online Thursday said that, on June 13, the government of Puerto Rico admitted that 1,427 more people had died in the four months after Maria, which made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane on Sept. 20, than in the previous four years at the same time.

"Similarly, independent researchers analyzing vital statistics data found that about 1,000 more people died in September and October 2017 than normal, largely in the hurricane's path or in mountainous rural areas," the report read.

The government had previously acknowledged the higher toll when a judge forced officials to release the death records after being sued by CNN and the Centro de Periodismo Investigativo in Puerto Rico.

Thursday's report, titled "Transformation and Innovation in the Wake of Devastation: An Economic and Disaster Recovery Plan for Puerto Rico," examines why the country was so inadequately prepared for Maria.

"Because the resources available for response were inadequate for the scale of the disaster, the failure of the lifeline systems meant that emergency services were severely compromised and residents lacked electricity, food and water for a prolonged period. And with roads impassable, residents had limited access to medical care," the report read.

"After the hurricanes, people lost their jobs, schools were closed, government services and private enterprise could no longer operate effectively, landslides caused flooding hazards, and wastewater polluted marine environments. Older adults, children, individuals with disabilities or chronic illnesses and women were all disproportionately affected by this disaster."

President Donald Trump has long touted the low death toll as evidence of the effectiveness of federal aid sent to the island. Promised $23 billion, Omar Marrero, the director of Puerto Rico's Central Recovery and Reconstruction Office, said in March that the country had received just $1.27 billion for its federal assistance nutrition program and $430 million to help repair public infrastructure.

"Every death is a horror, but if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina and you look at the tremendous _ hundreds and hundreds of people that died _ and you look at what happened here with, really, a storm that was just totally overpowering ... no one has ever seen anything like this," Trump told Puerto Rican officials in October, when the official toll sat at 16.

"Sixteen people versus in the thousands. You can be very proud of all of your people and all of our people working together. Sixteen versus literally thousands of people. You can be very proud. Everybody watching can really be very proud of what's taken place in Puerto Rico."

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