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Puerto Rico says hurricane death toll 20 times higher than first reported

The Puerto Rican government acknowledged in a new report in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria that more than 1,400 people likely died on the island because of the storm, roughly 20 times the previous number that had been provided.

The government on Thursday published a report titled “Transformation and Innovation in the Wake of Devastation,” which outlines the island’s response to the storm and what it intends to do to strengthen its economy and infrastructure moving forward. It also includes new estimates on the death toll.

“Although the official death count from the Puerto Rico Department of Public Safety was initially 64, the toll appears to be much higher,” the report stated.


“According to initial reports, 64 lives were lost. That estimate was later revised to 1,427,” it added in a separate section.

Pedro Cerame, a spokesman for the Puerto Rican Federal Affairs Administration, told The New York Times that the latest death toll figure is unofficial, but is a “realistic estimate.”

“We don’t want to say it out loud or publicize it as an official number,” Cerame told the news outlet. “The official number will come, and it could be close. But until we see the study, and have the accuracy, we won’t be able to recognize the number as official.”

Cerame was referencing a George Washington University study, which was commissioned earlier this year to examine the death toll. 

Both the Puerto Rican and the federal governments have faced significant scrutiny over the accounting of the deaths caused by the September 2017 storm.

The Trump administration has also drawn criticism for its handling of recovery efforts on the island. While President Trump gave himself a “10” for the government’s response, many have argued it was too slow and has stalled the island’s ability to get back on its feet.

In its report published Thursday, Puerto Rico pledged to invest $118 billion in upgrades to infrastructure, housing, health programs and education.

“The hurricane’s devastating effects on people’s health and safety cannot be overstated,” the report says.

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