- More than a month after Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, the death toll is still unclear. Puerto Rico’s government admitted that more than 900 people have died since the storm hit, but none of them were counted in the official death toll, which is 51. Earlier this month, President Donald Trump gave his administration a 10 out of 10 rating for its response to the crisis.
Increasingly murky reports about the number of people who have died from Hurricane Maria are coming out of Puerto Rico.
Héctor Pesquera, the island’s Department of Public Safety secretary, says the official death toll stands at 51, but a government spokesperson admitted to Buzzfeed News that at least 911 people have died since the storm made landfall in September.
While Karixia Ortiz Serrano, the spokesperson, clarified that all of those people died of “natural causes,” she also said that none of the bodies were examined by medical professionals. There’s no way, therefore, to verify exactly how those people died.
Puerto Rico’s government has also given funeral homes and crematoriums permission to burn the bodies of potential hurricane victims in an effort streamline the costs and logistics of burying the dead. Many of these funeral homes, however, have been left in the dark.
While the government says funeral directors should send potential hurricane-related victims to the Institute of Forensic Sciences to be examined before being cremated, that is apparently not being properly communicated. As a result, funeral homes and crematoriums could be receiving dozens of hurricane victims without even realizing it and without counting them in the storm’s official death toll.
Disaster experts told Buzzfeed News that “this lack of a transparent and consistent approach to counting deaths means the toll is likely inaccurate.”
- Jonathan Ernst
On September 20, Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, where about 3.4 million US citizens reside. The Category 4 storm ravaged much of the island, destroying entire communities, decimating farmland, and knocking out electrical grids.
As of October 26, about 74% of people still didn’t have power.
During a meeting with Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello at the White House, President Donald Trump praised his response to the crisis, giving his administration a 10 out of 10 rating.
“I’d say it was a 10,” Trump said. “I’d say it was probably the most difficult when you talk about relief, when you talk about search, when you talk about all of the different levels.”
Trump was later criticized for tossing paper towels to a crowd of hurricane victims and reprimanding Puerto Rico’s government for “throwing our budget out of whack.”