The government of Puerto Rico has quietly acknowledged in a report posted online that in all likelihood more than 1,400 people died in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria — a figure that is more than 20 times the official death toll.
Hurricane Maria cut through the island on Sept. 20, knocking out power and initially killing about a dozen people. The government’s official count eventually swelled to 64, as more people died from suicide, lack of access to health care and other factors. The number has not changed despite several academic assessments that official death certificates did not come close to tallying the storm’s fatal toll.
“We definitely acknowledge this is a realistic estimate,” Pedro Cerame, a spokesman for the Puerto Rican government’s Federal Affairs Administration, said of the numbers in the upcoming report to Congress. “We don’t want to say it out loud or publicize it as an official number. The official number will come, and it could be close. But until we see the study, and have the accuracy, we won’t be able to recognize the number as official.”
Mr. Cerame acknowledged that the final version of the report hedges the language to say that the additional deaths “may or may not be attributable” to the storm; the 1,427 figure was also deleted from a chart.
The official death toll has not been updated, he said, because officials are awaiting the outcome of the George Washington University study to provide certainty: “Once GW’s study is out, the number will be updated.”
Puerto Rican Government Acknowledges Hurricane Death Toll of 1,427