- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 9, 2018

The Puerto Rican government noted in a report to Congress that the death toll from September’s hurricanes was severely underestimated in initial reports.

“On June 13, the Government of Puerto Rico revealed that there were 1,427 more deaths in the four months after the hurricanes than normal (based on the previous four years),” the report reads.

The report, sent Wednesday to Congress, also noted that after Hurricanes Maria and Irma, other studies estimated that 800 to 8,500 Puerto Ricans died from “delayed or interrupted health care.”

The New York Times first reported on the Puerto Rican government’s report to Congress.

Initially, island authorities reported only 64 deaths in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm that tore through Puerto Rico just two weeks after Category 5 Hurricane Irma had brushed past the northern part of island and left 1 million people without power.

Puerto Rico’s aged electrical grid and infrastructure were badly damaged, leaving nearly all of the island’s 3.3 million residents in the dark. As of June, several thousand islanders were still without reliable electricity.

The Puerto Rico government publicly released a draft of their report, which was dated July 9. A more accurate count of hurricane-related deaths should be revealed in an academic study, which is expected to be released soon.

CBS’ David Begnaud shared a screenshot on Twitter of the final report, which changed how the new estimate was framed. The final version noted that the higher number of deaths “may or may not be attributable to the hurricanes.”

Based on updated statistics, the report to Congress also detailed a $139 billion reconstruction plan, The Associated Press reported.

Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rossello’s administration had stopped updating its official death toll months ago and ordered an investigation amid reports that the number was substantially undercounted.

Public Safety Department Secretary Hector Pesquera said the new total will reflect the findings of the investigation, which is expected in the coming weeks.

The figure of more than 1,400 deaths, Mr. Pesquera said, “is simple math” based on the number of excess deaths. “This is not the official number of deaths attributable to Hurricane Maria,” he said.

The government commissioned an independent epidemiological study by George Washington University and the Milken Institute of Public Health that is due in coming weeks.

Most of the deaths occurred not in the initial storm on Sept. 20, but in the ensuing days and weeks when the islandwide electricity outage and roads blocked by downed power lines and other debris made it difficult to move around and emergency services were stretched beyond their capabilities.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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