Puerto Rico Death Count May Be Much Higher Than Current Tally

Though officials say 45 people have died in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, anecdotal reports suggest that number is much higher. A recent Vox investigation tallied over 500 deaths that could be linked to the hurricane, in addition to another 69 people who are still missing following the storm.

Earlier this week, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello announced the death toll had climbed to 45, following two deaths from the bacterial infection leptospirosis. On Sunday, secretary of the Puerto Rico Department of Public Safety Héctor M. Pesquera told reporters he did not expect the death toll to reach the hundreds, declining to address media reports suggesting officials were underreporting deaths. Still, disaster experts have noted the official count seems low, considering the widespread devastation caused by the storm—three weeks after Maria, power is still out in 84 percent of the island, clean water is scarce, and hospitals are struggling to care for an increase in sick patients with limited resources.

Vox scoured media reports of deaths in Puerto Rico and found a total of 81 deaths that were either directly or indirectly linked to Hurricane Maria, 36 of which had not yet been confirmed by the government. Vox also found another 450 deaths reported in the storm's aftermath, and though it's unclear if those were connected to the hurricane, the outlet noted that the Puerto Rican government would only count deaths that had been confirmed by the Institute of Forensic Science in San Juan, and Puerto Rican online newspaper El Vocero reports that as of last week there were 350 bodies awaiting autopsy at the Institute. And though officials may not consider deaths that could have occurred regardless of the storm, disaster expert John Mutter told Vox that's "cheating."

"When I first started hearing the deaths were only 16, and then 34, I thought there was something wrong," he said. "Maria was bigger than the two previous storms, Harvey and Irma. And there’s no way to evacuate an island. All those people are still there. And then you look at damage and it’s profound. And now they’re saying only 45 people died, you’re saying come on, it couldn’t be."

You can see Vox's full methodology here. Meanwhile, today President Trump tweeted that recovery workers may not stay in Puerto Rico "forever," and that Congress could choose when to pull federal funds from the devastated island. He also blamed Puerto Rico for its pre-hurricane financial problems.

Puerto Rico is estimated to have lost $45 billion to $95 billion thanks to the hurricane. For comparison's sake, the U.S. military budget is $824.6 billion.

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