The government of Puerto Rico has acknowledged that the death toll for hurricanes Irma and Maria is probably as much as 20 times higher than the official count of 64.
Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY) responded, “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.
Velazquez and Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) introduced Counting Our Unexpected Natural Tragedies’ Victims Act, known as COUNT, to establish a standard means of producing death counts for natural disasters.
“Whether it be Hurricane Maria or another natural disaster to come, the accuracy of the death toll has a direct impact on an area’s recovery,” said Senator Harris. “We cannot allow our government’s failed response in Puerto Rico to ever happen again. The ability to accurately count victims of natural disasters will give accurate information to grieving communities, and help us understand how we can mitigate the damage of future disasters.”
Velazquez has also requested a Government Accountability Office analysis. “While we may never truly know how many lives were lost,” she said, “I can only hope these latest numbers create momentum for my legislation and, more broadly, for Congress to provide adequate resources for Puerto Rico to fully recover and for both the national and local governments to be better prepared in the future.”
House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) responded to the news of the new total, “This death toll attests to the profound loss experienced by thousands of families and communities across the island and on the mainland. These 1,427 victims were American citizens, and our government owes it to them and their families to help Puerto Rico recover and rebuild as well as ensure we are better prepared for future storms.”
Hoyer said he will continue to work with Velazquez and other legislators to support the rebuilding of Puerto Rico.
The acknowledgement of higher numbers of deaths was included in a funding request from Governor Rossello to Congress. Titled “Transformation and Innovation in the Wake of Devastation,” the 531-page document is a plan for rebuilding the Island. The Puerto Rico government is still waiting for the official results of a study they commissioned before releasing new official death toll figures.