After Reports of Higher Hurricane María Deaths, Puerto Rico Governor Calls for Formal Investigation and Review

Dec 18, 2017
10:13 am

Governor Ricardo Rosselló (Photo provided by Government of Puerto Rico)

Responding to multiple reports from outlets such as the Center for Investigate Journalism/Latino USA, the New York Times, BuzzFeed, CNN, Vox and others, suggesting that number of deaths in Puerto Rico related to Hurricane María is significantly higher than the Puerto Rican government’s official count of 64 deaths, governor Ricardo Rosselló said in a Monday statement that his administration “needs to investigative if the increase of the deaths is related directly or indirectly with Hurricane María.”

After the Times reported on Monday morning that Rosselló called for a review, the governor’s press team was contacted so it could share Rosselló’s entire statement. Here is what he said:

“As Governor, the safety and well-being are my priority. Both in preparation for the storms and their immediate aftermaths, my Administration has made the flow of information and transparency a priority.

I welcomed recent news analysis on the number of hurricane-related deaths, and that they may be higher than the official count certified to date. Those reports used the data provided by the Puerto Rico Demographic Registry, but the Government needs to investigative if the increase of the deaths is related directly or indirectly with Hurricane María.

In the Government, we cannot base any official fatality related to the hurricane count on statistical analysis. Every life is more than a number, and every death must have a name and vital information attached to it, as well as an accurate accounting of the facts related to their passing. That’s the law. A legal process of certification by a coroner or a doctor is necessary, and every family deserves that the case of their loved ones be looked at independently and thoroughly.

We also want the most accurate count and understanding of how people lost their lives to fully account for the impact of these storms, and to identify ways in which we can prevent fatalities in advance of future disasters.

That is why I have ordered the Puerto Rico Demographic Registry and the Department of Public Safety to conduct a thorough review and inspection of all deaths that have taken place since Hurricane María hit, regardless of what the death certificate says. We always expected that the number of hurricane-related deaths would increase as we received more factual information —not hearsay— and this review will ensure we are correctly counting everybody. I have also called for the creation of a panel of experts to look into our current certification processes so that we can improve them going forward.

This is about more than numbers, these are lives: real people, leaving behind loved ones and families. The Government needs to work with sensibility and certainty in the process of certifying a death related to the hurricane.”

Last week, Puerto Rico’s Department of Health shared the latest information it has about deaths for September and October, which show that when compared to the same time period in 2016, there were more than 1,000 additional deaths this year. It has yet to share information about deaths for November. Several weeks ago, a report from the Center for Investigative Journalism and Latino USA chronicled specific examples of possible hurricane-related deaths not certified by the government of Puerto Rico.

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Julio (Julito) Ricardo Varela is the founder of Latino Rebels, co-host of In The Thick and a frequent contributor to Latino USA. He tweets from @julito77.

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