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Puerto Ricans lost to Hurricane Maria remembered as new reports question low death toll

Puerto Ricans laid out hundreds of shoes Saturday in front of the US territory's Capitol in a makeshift memorial to t...

Posted: Jun 3, 2018 1:39 PM
Updated: Jun 3, 2018 1:39 PM

Puerto Ricans laid out hundreds of shoes Saturday in front of the US territory's Capitol in a makeshift memorial to those killed by Hurricane Maria -- wrapping up a week in which two reports brought fresh questions about how many people died from last year's devastating storm.

Residents placed more than 1,600 pairs of shoes in front of the building, some with notes and flowers honoring one or more people. Visitors hugged one another, or looked on in tears.

Emma Rodriguez sobbed when she arrived with Alberto Martinez. They came from Aguadilla, and left shoes for Jonathan Goitia and Abner DeJesus. DeJesus had a medical condition that worsened after Maria, when he couldn't get medical attention he needed. Goitia, Rodriguez said, was found dead in his home.

"I can smell the death. This is death," Rodriguez said.

Most people left written messages with the shoes, such as, "You will rejoice when you see me in the place that no eye has seen..." and "Today I am lending your shoes for a cause." And some mourners expressed anger.

"Donald Trump had the nerve to say this wasn't that big of a deal compared to (Hurricane) Katrina," Arturo Alvarez said. "There are no words to describe how disrespectful it was" for him to say that.

"Now is the time to say goodbye to the relatives, is the time (for) sorrow, is the time to hug each other," memorial organizer Gloribel Delgado told CNN. "So it's the time to really say a goodbye in honor and dignity."

University of Puerto Rico professor Rafael Acevedo is credited with coming up with the idea for the shoe memorial. Delgado said the shoes will be left out until Sunday, then moved to other municipalities hurt by the storm.'

The memorial came as a controversy swirls over the government's official death toll of 64 from the storm that slammed into the Caribbean island on September 20.

On Friday, the US commonwealth's government released data showing deaths on the island spiked sharply around the time Hurricane Maria hit -- perhaps dovetailing with assertions that the official storm death toll is far too low.

The data show an increase of 1,431 overall deaths on Puerto Rico in September, October and November 2017 compared with the same three months a year earlier, and a jump of 1,720 deaths compared with the same three months in 2015.

However, the raw data released Friday by the island's demographic registry does not specify causes of death -- so it is unclear how much of the spike could be related to the storm.

The data release comes days after a Harvard University study estimated that 4,645 people died from Maria and its aftermath -- 70 times greater than the island's official death toll.

CNN and other news outlets have used government statistics and extensive interviews with families of the deceased and funeral home directors to question the Puerto Rican government's official tally of deaths.

CNN and the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI) in Puerto Rico are suing the island's demographic registry for access to death records that have been withheld.

On Thursday, Gov. Ricardo Rossell- said he did not stand by the official death toll, and that he welcomed the Harvard study results. But he said his government did the best it could with information-gathering protocol available at the time.

"We had established that this number was going to be much, much higher than what we had as an official tally," he told CNN's Anderson Cooper.

"It's not sticking with the number. It was just establishing that the process that we had prior led us to that number, which is what we got from doctors and death certificates."

Maria wiped out Puerto Rico's power grid, leaving the entire island in the dark in September. While most power and water service has been restored, thousands of people remain without electricity more than eight months after the storm hit.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 331863

Reported Deaths: 7494
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto22855279
Hinds22625437
Harrison19462326
Rankin14765286
Jackson14233251
Madison10658227
Lee10398178
Jones8713169
Forrest8164157
Lauderdale7528243
Lowndes6761150
Lamar665988
Lafayette6446124
Washington5497139
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Oktibbeha476898
Panola4719112
Marshall4648106
Warren4612125
Pontotoc438873
Monroe4243137
Union424379
Neshoba4179180
Lincoln4088115
Hancock402788
Leflore3562125
Pike3511111
Tate348988
Alcorn343174
Sunflower342293
Adams331987
Yazoo330573
Scott330175
Simpson313690
Copiah311467
Itawamba309580
Coahoma308285
Tippah298368
Prentiss292563
Covington280183
Marion278980
Leake277975
Wayne269942
Grenada265688
George259851
Newton256064
Tishomingo235769
Winston235084
Jasper225748
Attala220373
Chickasaw215960
Stone209137
Holmes194974
Clay191554
Tallahatchie181542
Clarke181480
Calhoun177332
Smith175334
Yalobusha169240
Walthall140448
Lawrence137026
Greene134934
Amite131843
Noxubee131135
Perry130838
Montgomery130644
Carroll124531
Webster116732
Jefferson Davis112934
Tunica110827
Benton104425
Claiborne104231
Kemper100329
Humphreys99033
Franklin85923
Quitman83519
Choctaw80919
Wilkinson73232
Jefferson69028
Sharkey51518
Issaquena1696
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 565510

Reported Deaths: 11468
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson828061584
Mobile44938853
Madison36534532
Tuscaloosa26589465
Shelby26409255
Montgomery25598623
Baldwin23319324
Lee16691179
Calhoun15030332
Morgan14877288
Etowah14563368
Marshall12723235
Houston11302292
Elmore10576217
St. Clair10449251
Limestone10420158
Cullman10198204
Lauderdale9883253
DeKalb9226191
Talladega8705187
Walker7545286
Autauga7388113
Jackson7216117
Blount7147139
Colbert6522142
Coffee5962131
Dale5224117
Russell463942
Chilton4603117
Covington4502125
Franklin439781
Tallapoosa4343156
Escambia414782
Chambers3813124
Dallas3674163
Clarke361562
Marion3354106
Pike323179
Lawrence3176101
Winston289672
Bibb276165
Geneva267383
Marengo257367
Barbour241860
Pickens238862
Butler233571
Hale230578
Fayette223863
Henry203345
Cherokee192347
Randolph192244
Monroe190241
Washington174539
Macon167252
Crenshaw163457
Clay161859
Cleburne158445
Lamar149138
Lowndes143854
Wilcox128431
Bullock125342
Conecuh117730
Coosa115229
Perry109628
Sumter107532
Greene95935
Choctaw63125
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