The governor of hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico is ordering the Puerto Rico Demographic Registry and the Department of Public Safety to review all deaths that have occurred since Hurricane Maria hit in September, "regardless of what the death certificate says."
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Puerto Rico's official death toll from Maria -- which slammed into the United States territory September 20 as a Category 4 storm -- reached 64 earlier this month, according to the island's Department of Public Safety.
But some independent analyses found that the death toll was likely significantly higher. The New York Times published a review it conducted of daily mortality data from Puerto Rico’s vital statistics bureau; it discovered that 1,052 more people than usual died on the island after Maria’s landfall.
Governor Ricardo Rosselló said today that he wants a review of the official death count.
"I welcomed recent news analysis on the number of hurricane-related deaths, and that they may be higher than the official count certified to date," he said in a statement today. "Those reports used the data provided by the Puerto Rico Demographic Registry, but the Government needs to investigative if the increase of the deaths is related directly or indirectly with Hurricane Maria."
"Every life is more than a number, and every death must have a name and vital information attached to it, as well as an accurate accounting of the facts related to their passing. That’s the law," Rosselló added. "A legal process of certification by a coroner or a doctor is necessary, and every family deserves that the case of their loved ones be looked at independently and thoroughly."
The governor added that ensuring the count is accurate could help the island to understand what caused the deaths and how to more accurately count them.
"We also want the most accurate count and understanding of how people lost their lives to fully account for the impact of these storms, and to identify ways in which we can prevent fatalities in advance of future disasters," Rosselló said.
"We always expected that the number of hurricane-related deaths would increase as we received more factual information—not hearsay—and this review will ensure we are correctly counting everybody," he added. "I have also called for the creation of a panel of experts to look into our current certification processes so that we can improve them going forward."
In addition to the many people killed, the devastating storm caused the longest and largest major power outage in modern American history.
According to the government of Puerto Rico, almost 70 percent of its electrical grid is generating power now, but it's unclear how many homes and business are receiving that power. More than 500 people remain in shelters, government reports say.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency said earlier this month that federal assistance in Puerto Rico has topped $1 billion. FEMA said it has provided funds to more than 366,000 families on the island.