Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló announced that the number of deaths related to Hurricane Maria may actually be higher than the official count of 64. Rosselló has ordered an official review of all deaths in Puerto Rico since the hurricane.
The Puerto Rico Demographic Registry, the island’s vital statistics bureau, and the Department of Public Safety were given the order to re-examine the number of deaths. The review order was made after Puerto Rico residents claimed deaths of their loved ones were caused by Maria but were not counted in the total 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.
Furthermore, Rosselló said he’d create a panel of experts to review the island’s current death certification process.
The initial number of deaths was questioned from the start due to the total count being considerably low for the amount of damage the hurricane caused to the island. Maria took out a great deal of the island’s infrastructure, covered streets and sewers with debris, and left mass amounts of people without electrical power. For many ill and elderly residents, electricity was essential to their well-being.
There were reports of people being unable to use oxygen and dialysis equipment, unable to keep insulin refrigerated, and evacuated from hospitals due to a loss of emergency power. While air conditioning units count for about 5% of electricity used in U.S. facilities, including hospitals, there are other essential functions that require the use of electricity as well.
Hurricane Maria caused the biggest and most extensive power outage in modern American history. Almost 70% of Puerto Rico’s electrical grid is now generating power again, according to officials, however, it remained unclear how many homes and businesses have begun receiving that power.
Rep. Nydia Velázquez, D-New York said the review is welcome and long overdue. She has been critical of the official death count and requested an individual review. Along with Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, they put in a request to the Government Accountability Office last week to review the deaths. Currently, the request is still pending.
Media reports on individual deaths continued to put pressure on the government to take another look at its death toll. However, even though Rosselló ordered the review, he did not agree with the media reports that found the death toll to reach 1,000 or more.
Rosselló said in a statement, “In the government, we cannot base any official fatality related to the hurricane count on statistical analysis,” he said. “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.”