STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

Puerto Rico admits Hurricane Maria's death toll may be 1,427

The government of Puerto Rico has quietly admitted that the death toll from Hurricane Maria -- a subject of ...

Posted: Aug 9, 2018 4:04 PM
Updated: Aug 9, 2018 4:04 PM

The government of Puerto Rico has quietly admitted that the death toll from Hurricane Maria -- a subject of great controversy -- may be far higher than its official estimate of 64.

In a report to Congress dated Wednesday, the US commonwealth's government says documents show that 1,427 more deaths occurred in the four months after the storm than "normal," compared with deaths that occurred the previous four years.

Accidents, disasters and safety

Caribbean

Continents and regions

Deaths and fatalities

Hurricane Maria

Hurricanes

Latin America

Natural disasters

North America

Puerto Rico

Severe weather

Society

The Americas

Tropical storms

United States

Weather

The 1,427 figure also appeared in a draft of the report -- "Transformation and Innovation in the Wake of Devastation" -- which was published and opened for public comment July 9. The figure was first "revealed" by the Puerto Rico government, according to the final report, on June 13, one day after officials were forced by a judge to release death records that CNN and the Centro de Periodismo Investigativo in Puerto Rico had sued to make public.

Officials stopped short of updating the official death toll for the September 20 storm.

"The official number is being reviewed as part of a study under way by George Washington University," the report says. Officials hired that university to review the toll after news reports, including those from CNN, called it into question.

The George Washington University study "will have certainty" about the number of people the government believes died in Hurricane Maria and its aftermath, Pedro Cerame, a spokesman for the Puerto Rican government in Washington, told CNN. Officials initially said that report would be released in May. Now they expect it to publish this month.

"We understand that the number is higher," Carlos Mercader, executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, told CNN in an interview. "We didn't commission the study to prove there were 64 (deaths). We wanted a scientific and epidemiological study that would give us light, not only on the number -- we know the number is higher -- but the reasons why this happened."

The 1,427 figure is "an estimate," Cerame said, and it may include deaths that weren't related to the storm.

It's an estimate that follows many others like it.

In November, CNN surveyed 112 funeral homes -- about half the total -- across the island, finding that funeral home directors and staff had identified at least 499 deaths they believed to be related to Hurricane Maria and its chaotic aftermath, which included months without power for many of the island's 3.3 million residents. In December, the New York Times estimated the "excess death" toll from the storm to be 1,052, based on comparisons with previous years.

In May, a team that included researchers from Harvard University published a study in the New England Journal of Medicine estimating that 793 to 8,498 people died in Maria's wake, a range that some academics have criticized as overly broad. The study's midpoint estimate -- 4,645 deaths -- became a rallying cry for activists upset by what they see as a lack of accountability for the scale of the catastrophe by officials in Puerto Rico and the United States.

The Harvard estimate was based on surveys of 3,299 households in Puerto Rico, in which residents were asked about deaths in their homes after Hurricane Maria.

Mercader, the Puerto Rico official, criticized that study in an interview with CNN on Thursday. "We all know that's impossible, that that couldn't happen," he said of the estimate that 4,645 people may have died after Maria. "We have the data. You all know that is an exaggeration."

Then last week, a research letter published in the medical journal JAMA estimated that between 1,006 and 1,272 people died in relation to the storm -- with a midpoint estimate of 1,139.

An accurate death toll is important, according to officials and academics, because it can help Puerto Rico and other governments better prepare for future storms, which are expected to become worse in the era of climate change. The official count also matters a great deal to the families of the deceased. Not only are they eligible for certain federal aid if the deaths are officially counted, but some relatives of the dead simply want their loved ones to be remembered.

"They were not numbers; they were people," Lisa De Jesús, whose friend Reinaldo Ruiz Cintron died while working in hurricane cleanup, told CNN in June. "And the government thinks that just putting a Band-Aid on things, it's all OK. But, no. What about our feelings? What about those people who died trying to put Puerto Rico back (together) again? People needed (electricity) because they had oxygen (machines). They were ill; they had cancer. They had other issues, health-wise. They needed the government, and the government failed them."

She shared Ruiz's story, she said, so "at least someone will know he existed."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 35712

Reported Deaths: 2207
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion10037594
Lake3806202
Allen174371
Cass15927
Elkhart143529
St. Joseph132035
Hamilton118094
Hendricks118074
Johnson1120110
Madison59761
Porter55329
Clark52841
Bartholomew52238
Howard43734
LaPorte43624
Tippecanoe4214
Shelby39822
Jackson3942
Delaware38740
Hancock34928
Floyd32140
Boone31835
Vanderburgh2902
Morgan28324
Noble25121
Montgomery24417
Clinton2401
White2389
Decatur23031
Grant22123
Dubois2053
Harrison19622
Henry18412
Vigo1758
Greene17125
Dearborn17021
Monroe17012
Warrick16728
Kosciusko1661
Lawrence16524
Marshall1472
Miami1411
Putnam1377
Orange13122
Jennings1314
Scott1223
Franklin1158
Ripley1086
LaGrange1022
Daviess9516
Carroll933
Steuben872
Wayne865
Wabash802
Fayette797
Newton7810
Jasper701
Jay530
Clay522
Washington511
Rush503
Randolph503
Fulton501
Pulaski490
Jefferson471
Whitley443
DeKalb431
Starke393
Sullivan371
Owen341
Perry340
Huntington342
Brown331
Benton320
Wells320
Knox310
Blackford272
Tipton261
Crawford240
Fountain222
Switzerland210
Spencer211
Adams201
Gibson182
Parke180
Posey160
Ohio130
Warren121
Martin120
Vermillion100
Union90
Pike60
Unassigned0175
West Lafayette
Clear
83° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 86°
Kokomo
Clear
79° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 82°
Rensselaer
Scattered Clouds
81° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 63°
Feels Like: 83°
Fowler
Scattered Clouds
81° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 83°
Williamsport
Scattered Clouds
80° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 82°
Crawfordsville
Scattered Clouds
77° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 79°
Frankfort
Broken Clouds
82° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 84°
Delphi
Clear
79° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 81°
Monticello
Clear
79° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 81°
Logansport
Scattered Clouds
79° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 81°
Isolated storms & humid......
WLFI Radar
WLFI Temps
WLFI Planner

COVID-19 Important links and resources

As the spread of COVID-19, or as it's more commonly known as the coronavirus continues, this page will serve as your one-stop for the resources you need to stay informed and to keep you and your family safe. CLICK HERE

Closings related to the prevention of the COVID-19 can be found on our Closings page.

Community Events