Puerto Rico Finally Admits It Wildly Underestimated Hurricane Maria Death Toll

A new government report says the storm killed 1,427 people on the island.

Efrain Diaz Figueroa, right, walks by the remains of the house of his sister destroyed by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto.Ramon Espinosa/AP Photo

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This morning, the Puerto Rican government finally admitted that its official death toll for Hurricane Maria was a wild underestimate. A new government report calculates that the island suffered 1,427 deaths from the storm and its aftermath.

Shortly after the hurricane, officials put the death toll at 64, though subsequent reports from CNN, the Center for Investigative Journalism, and The New England Journal of Medicine calculated much higher numbers.

Most of the deaths occurred in the weeks after the hurricane due to infrastructure failures, including the lack of power, impassable roads, water and food shortages, and difficulty obtaining medical care. As of June, thousands remained without power. Puerto Rico is seeking $139 billion in recovery funds to restore infrastructure and fix environmental hazards caused by the storm last September. 

Héctor Pesquera, secretary of the Department of Public Safety in Puerto Rico, noted in a statement that Puerto Rican officials are waiting for a study commissioned from George Washington University before they officially update the death toll. That report will be released in a few weeks. “On June 1,” Pesquera said, “the Puerto Rico Demographic Registry released data to the media which indicated there was an excess of 1,400 deaths in the four months following Hurricane María. That number was not the result of an independent study—it is simple math. This is not the official number of deaths attributable to Hurricane María.” 

Puerto Rican congresswoman Nydia M. Velzáquez (D-NY), who sits on the House Committee of Natural Resources, released a statement condemning America’s post-hurricane response. “It has been tragically clear for some time that the devastation from Irma and Maria was many magnitudes worse than the official death toll suggested. There’s good reason to believe that the actual loss of life may be even higher than this estimate. This news is simply the latest evidence underscoring how inadequate the federal response was to a humanitarian crisis affecting our fellow citizens,” she wrote.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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