WEATHER AUTHORITY : Flood Advisory - Flash Flood Warning View Alerts

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.

Confirmed Cases: 29684

Reported Deaths: 1103
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds238239
DeSoto148616
Madison126734
Jones110449
Neshoba98171
Lauderdale90079
Rankin88812
Forrest85142
Harrison84210
Scott76215
Copiah59216
Jackson58416
Leake57019
Holmes54441
Wayne53513
Lee53218
Oktibbeha53226
Washington5319
Warren49618
Yazoo4936
Leflore48049
Lowndes47212
Lincoln44334
Lamar4407
Grenada4325
Pike40712
Monroe38830
Lafayette3774
Attala35823
Sunflower3467
Newton3389
Covington3345
Panola3256
Bolivar32114
Adams29318
Simpson2833
Pontotoc2736
Marion27011
Tate2709
Chickasaw26918
Claiborne25610
Jasper2566
Winston2546
Noxubee2538
Pearl River24832
Clay24710
Marshall2173
Smith21611
Clarke20524
Coahoma1916
Union1919
Walthall1804
Kemper17714
Lawrence1701
Yalobusha1677
Carroll16411
Itawamba1348
Humphreys1329
Calhoun1284
Tippah12811
Hancock12613
Webster12610
Montgomery1242
Tallahatchie1224
Jefferson Davis1094
Prentiss1023
Greene1018
Jefferson993
Tunica933
Wilkinson929
Amite892
George783
Tishomingo741
Quitman730
Choctaw724
Perry654
Alcorn631
Stone571
Franklin412
Sharkey340
Benton300
Issaquena91
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 41362

Reported Deaths: 983
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson4802152
Montgomery3947103
Mobile3904134
Tuscaloosa218842
Marshall168010
Lee130237
Madison12717
Shelby117623
Morgan10475
Walker90524
Franklin87814
Dallas8689
Elmore86414
Baldwin8289
Etowah70713
DeKalb6945
Butler62328
Chambers61227
Tallapoosa58369
Autauga56012
Russell5190
Unassigned50323
Lauderdale4736
Limestone4660
Lowndes46321
Houston4614
Cullman4354
Pike4175
Colbert3836
Coffee3702
Bullock3679
St. Clair3472
Barbour3452
Covington3437
Escambia3326
Calhoun3225
Hale30621
Marengo30011
Talladega3007
Wilcox2898
Sumter28412
Clarke2726
Dale2680
Jackson2632
Winston2463
Monroe2312
Chilton2282
Blount2261
Pickens2226
Marion21413
Randolph2019
Conecuh1977
Choctaw19512
Bibb1861
Greene1838
Macon1819
Perry1621
Henry1313
Crenshaw1253
Lawrence1050
Washington1047
Cherokee857
Geneva780
Lamar751
Fayette671
Clay622
Coosa581
Cleburne361
Out of AL00
Tupelo
Clear
85° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 73°
Feels Like: 92°
Columbus
Clear
82° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 72°
Feels Like: 90°
Oxford
Clear
73° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 73°
Starkville
Scattered Clouds
77° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 78°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather