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Puerto Rico admits Hurricane Maria's death toll may be 1,427

The government of Puerto Rico has quietly admitted that the death toll from Hurricane Maria -- a subject of ...

Posted: Aug 9, 2018 3:04 PM
Updated: Aug 9, 2018 3:04 PM

The government of Puerto Rico has quietly admitted that the death toll from Hurricane Maria -- a subject of great controversy -- may be far higher than its official estimate of 64.

In a report to Congress dated Wednesday, the US commonwealth's government says documents show that 1,427 more deaths occurred in the four months after the storm than "normal," compared with deaths that occurred the previous four years.

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The 1,427 figure also appeared in a draft of the report -- "Transformation and Innovation in the Wake of Devastation" -- which was published and opened for public comment July 9. The figure was first "revealed" by the Puerto Rico government, according to the final report, on June 13, one day after officials were forced by a judge to release death records that CNN and the Centro de Periodismo Investigativo in Puerto Rico had sued to make public.

Officials stopped short of updating the official death toll for the September 20 storm.

"The official number is being reviewed as part of a study under way by George Washington University," the report says. Officials hired that university to review the toll after news reports, including those from CNN, called it into question.

The George Washington University study "will have certainty" about the number of people the government believes died in Hurricane Maria and its aftermath, Pedro Cerame, a spokesman for the Puerto Rican government in Washington, told CNN. Officials initially said that report would be released in May. Now they expect it to publish this month.

"We understand that the number is higher," Carlos Mercader, executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, told CNN in an interview. "We didn't commission the study to prove there were 64 (deaths). We wanted a scientific and epidemiological study that would give us light, not only on the number -- we know the number is higher -- but the reasons why this happened."

The 1,427 figure is "an estimate," Cerame said, and it may include deaths that weren't related to the storm.

It's an estimate that follows many others like it.

In November, CNN surveyed 112 funeral homes -- about half the total -- across the island, finding that funeral home directors and staff had identified at least 499 deaths they believed to be related to Hurricane Maria and its chaotic aftermath, which included months without power for many of the island's 3.3 million residents. In December, the New York Times estimated the "excess death" toll from the storm to be 1,052, based on comparisons with previous years.

In May, a team that included researchers from Harvard University published a study in the New England Journal of Medicine estimating that 793 to 8,498 people died in Maria's wake, a range that some academics have criticized as overly broad. The study's midpoint estimate -- 4,645 deaths -- became a rallying cry for activists upset by what they see as a lack of accountability for the scale of the catastrophe by officials in Puerto Rico and the United States.

The Harvard estimate was based on surveys of 3,299 households in Puerto Rico, in which residents were asked about deaths in their homes after Hurricane Maria.

Mercader, the Puerto Rico official, criticized that study in an interview with CNN on Thursday. "We all know that's impossible, that that couldn't happen," he said of the estimate that 4,645 people may have died after Maria. "We have the data. You all know that is an exaggeration."

Then last week, a research letter published in the medical journal JAMA estimated that between 1,006 and 1,272 people died in relation to the storm -- with a midpoint estimate of 1,139.

An accurate death toll is important, according to officials and academics, because it can help Puerto Rico and other governments better prepare for future storms, which are expected to become worse in the era of climate change. The official count also matters a great deal to the families of the deceased. Not only are they eligible for certain federal aid if the deaths are officially counted, but some relatives of the dead simply want their loved ones to be remembered.

"They were not numbers; they were people," Lisa De Jesús, whose friend Reinaldo Ruiz Cintron died while working in hurricane cleanup, told CNN in June. "And the government thinks that just putting a Band-Aid on things, it's all OK. But, no. What about our feelings? What about those people who died trying to put Puerto Rico back (together) again? People needed (electricity) because they had oxygen (machines). They were ill; they had cancer. They had other issues, health-wise. They needed the government, and the government failed them."

She shared Ruiz's story, she said, so "at least someone will know he existed."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 297321

Reported Deaths: 6805
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto19814231
Hinds18949395
Harrison16886282
Rankin12842265
Jackson12750234
Lee9720163
Madison9516204
Jones8035148
Forrest7289138
Lauderdale6872228
Lowndes6061140
Lamar593381
Lafayette5767114
Washington5232130
Bolivar4630124
Oktibbeha443095
Panola433698
Pearl River4212132
Warren4144115
Pontotoc411071
Marshall405995
Monroe3996129
Union397174
Neshoba3848171
Lincoln3624104
Hancock352978
Leflore3400121
Sunflower320986
Tate303974
Pike302697
Scott296171
Alcorn292763
Yazoo292066
Itawamba290675
Coahoma283069
Tippah280065
Copiah279959
Simpson277581
Prentiss271258
Marion258878
Wayne255641
Leake254172
Covington250280
Grenada248878
Adams235778
George232745
Newton232753
Winston222179
Jasper214145
Tishomingo213266
Attala206971
Chickasaw201954
Holmes182870
Clay179452
Stone173429
Tallahatchie171739
Clarke170773
Calhoun158628
Smith153833
Yalobusha145736
Greene128133
Walthall125441
Montgomery123540
Noxubee123431
Perry123235
Lawrence121421
Carroll119425
Amite112435
Webster111132
Jefferson Davis102731
Tunica99824
Claiborne99030
Benton94024
Humphreys93128
Kemper91423
Quitman77514
Franklin76420
Choctaw70117
Jefferson62827
Wilkinson62727
Sharkey49217
Issaquena1676
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 499411

Reported Deaths: 10149
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson719951403
Mobile36396741
Madison32674469
Tuscaloosa24391423
Montgomery22789523
Shelby22250219
Baldwin19915289
Lee15070161
Calhoun13961296
Morgan13785255
Etowah13413327
Marshall11458215
Houston10121264
Elmore9509190
Limestone9435139
St. Clair9050228
Cullman8993183
Lauderdale8628214
DeKalb8507175
Talladega7643165
Walker6600260
Jackson6551104
Autauga634492
Blount6252128
Colbert6007121
Coffee5261104
Dale4680107
Russell407534
Franklin400779
Covington3996107
Chilton3911104
Escambia379473
Tallapoosa3637143
Clarke344553
Chambers3432111
Dallas3428142
Pike292973
Marion288796
Lawrence285787
Winston258568
Bibb246058
Marengo244657
Geneva240270
Pickens225757
Barbour213851
Hale212569
Fayette202657
Butler201466
Henry183541
Cherokee178140
Monroe166739
Randolph165141
Washington157036
Macon147845
Crenshaw146755
Clay146254
Cleburne140141
Lamar133933
Lowndes133151
Wilcox123225
Bullock117736
Conecuh107224
Perry106427
Sumter100832
Coosa90324
Greene88732
Choctaw55723
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