First, it was 16. Then, 64. Later, Harvard said 4,645. Now, George Washington University has placed the death toll at nearly 3,000, confirming what many Puerto Ricans have said for almost a year following the devastating effects of Hurricane María.
In a study – commissioned by Ricardo Roselló’s administration – the university revealed that 2,975 people died in the aftermath of the category 4 hurricane that ravaged Puerto Rico on September 2017. The study noted an excess of 2,975 deaths from September 2017 to February 2018 in comparison to previous years. The governor announced in a press conference on Tuesday that he updated the official number of victims “with an asterisk,” since the death toll is still an average. There’s no updated list of victims at this time.
In the press conference, Roselló said “he wasn’t perfect” and admitted there weren’t proper protocols in place to properly handle a catastrophe of this scale. Still, he rejected his delay in admitting the death toll had to do with politics. “It’s repugnant to insinuate that this had something to do with politics,” he said.
The governor also recognized that people in poorer towns, mostly in the center of the island, were more vulnerable to the harsh conditions left by María, as the study suggested. Roselló didn’t address the direct impact of the lack of power and water to victims, though he did say the process was slower and more vulnerable because of the lack of communication and computerized death protocols. The governor added a future hurricane could be as damaging to the island, especially since the electrical grid is in bad shape.
As a result of the study, the government’s set to enact a plan based on the recommendations from the report, which includes proper aftermath training for doctors. George Washington University revealed a discrepancy over who’s responsible for reporting deaths in natural catastrophe. The government will also create a commission that will be in charge of putting in place a new contingency plan for hurricanes. And the governor has asked the School of Architecture at the University of Puerto Rico to start planning a physical memorial to remember the victims of Hurricane María.
But Puerto Rican Twitter is, naturally, a bit more skeptic, and after almost a year of “he said, she said” stories, are demanding Congress start an investigation and calling for secretary of public heath Hector Pesquera to resign.
Here’s what Puerto Ricans are saying after the recent death toll update: