Puerto Rico Governor Orders Recount Of Hurricane Deaths

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Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello ordered a recount all fatalities from Hurricane Maria amid evidence the original death count was vastly underreported.

"This is about more than numbers," Rossello said in a statement. "These are lives: real people, leaving behind loved ones and families."

According to The New York Times, the governor's statements on Dec. 18 contradicted his earlier defense of his administration's counting method. The official count was 64, but independent news analyses concluded the number was much higher.

The New York Times estimated that 1,042 more people than usual had died in the 42 days following the massive hurricane. Meanwhile, Puerto Rico's Center for Investigative Journalism arrived at a similar figure of 1,065 people.

CBC News reports that CNN spent two weeks contacting 112 funeral homes in Puerto Rico. They concluded that 499 more people had died than the government had counted.

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The 900 deaths since the hurricane have been categorized as "natural causes" unrelated to the hurricane, The Hill reports. Officials now say the three-month blackout following the hurricane, which made landfall on Sept. 20, could have delayed medical treatment for some people.

The leading causes of death in September were reported to be Alzheimer's and diabetes. But the number of deaths from sepsis -- an infection frequently caused by lack of medical care and poor living conditions -- increased by 50 percent.

“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," Rossello stated. "Every life is more than a number, and every death must have a name and vital information attached to it."

President Donald Trump's reaction to the death count following the hurricane was also widely criticized. During his visit in October, Trump had said that Puerto Rico should be "very proud" that only 16 people died compared to thousands after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005.

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The electrical grid is Puerto Rico is now operating at 70 percent capacity and portions of the island remain in darkness, CBC News reports.

Rossello said it will take about $94 billion to rebuild everything that was obliterated or damaged. About $46 billion of that figure is needed for housing and $30 billion needs to go to infrastructure and public buildings, such as schools and hospitals, that support the island's 3.4 million Americans.

Congress has so far approved $5 billion for Puerto Rico's recovery.

Sources: The New York Times, The Hill, CBC News via The National Today / Featured Image: U.S. Customs and Border Protection/Wikimedia Commons / Embedded Images: The Naval Research Laboratory/NOAA/Wikimedia Commons, Sgt. Jose Diaz-Ramos/Puerto Rico National Guard/USDA/Wikimedia Commons

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