Congress members demand to know the true death toll in Puerto Rico

Politicians want answers.
October 12, 2017, 1:45pm

The death count in Puerto Rico varies from 45 to closer to 500. Now, politicians want to know the real number.

Members of Congress have requested a formal audit of the death toll in Puerto Rico, citing concerns about the “woefully underreported” number of people who had died in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

New York Democrat Rep. Nydia Velázquez and Mississippi Democrat Rep. Bennie Thompson, the ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, wrote a letter to Department of Homeland Security on Thursday, which urged the agency to evaluate the casualties on the island and the accuracy of the government’s methodology for counting bodies and report its finding within 10 days.

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“It would be morally reprehensible to intentionally underreport the true death toll to portray relief efforts as more successful than they are,” the letter stated. “If, on the contrary, this information has benignly been muddled due to a lack of capacity on the island, then the federal government must work hand in-hand with Puerto Rico’s government to provide a clearer assessment. “

The official death count currently sits at 45, although a report from Vox, which Velasquez and Thompson cite in their letter, found more than 450 additional deaths had occurred. Health care professionals and volunteers on the island have repeatedly put death toll much higher than the official count due to a lack of communication, poor access to rural areas, and not accounting for deaths indirectly related to the hurricane, like those due to medicine shortages.

Velasquez, a native Puerto Rican once called the federal government’s response to Hurricane Maria “totally inefficient.” She also specifically called out President Trump for his response.

It doesn’t help that FEMA has haphazardly removed and added statistics about access to clean water, hospitals, and electricity, making it difficult to track the true progress of the recovery.

Read: Not even hospitals in Puerto Rico know how many have died