Officials Finally Acknowledged Hurricane Maria’s Higher Death Toll. What Else Did They Get Wrong?

The remnants of a destroyed home stand more than two weeks after Hurricane Maria hit the island on October 6th, 2017, in Morovis, Puerto Rico.

The Puerto Rican government officially acknowledged that more than 1,400 people died in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in a report to Congress released Thursday.

The new death toll is 20 times higher than the government’s initial count, which Governor Ricardo Rosselló had maintained for months, despite reports from researchers and journalists indicating it was much higher. Until June, Rosselló refused to admit his government might have undercounted—and this is not the only spurious claim made since the disaster.

United States agencies and the Puerto Rican government have gone back and forth on statements and plans addressing the hurricane’s death count, efforts to restore electricity, and aid measures, described below.

A Changing Death Toll

According to the Puerto Rican government’s initial count, only 64 people died when the Category 5 storm made landfall on September 20th. However, at least a thousand more have died since from its indirect effects: power outages in hospitals, or lack of food, water, and medical supplies.

After a New York Times investigation found at least 1,000 people might have died because of the storm, the government came under fire for its stance. In December of 2017, Rosselló admitted that the toll “may be higher than the official count certified to date” and ordered a review of all the deaths on the island after Maria in order to determine whether they could be attributed to the storm.

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