San Juan mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz estimates the actual death toll in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria is far higher than the number of officially reported deaths.
“It appears, for whatever reason, that the death toll is much higher than what has been reported,” Cruz said in an appearance on CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper.”
Cruz told Tapper there have been 911 cremations in the U.S. territory in the last month, a far greater number than normal.
“Usually it’s about half that,” Cruz said.
“What we do know for sure is that people are being catalogued as dying … natural deaths,” Cruz said.
The San Juan mayor said some deaths, like those who die from their respirators losing power, are being categorized as “natural causes” but are in fact related to the damage left by Hurricane Maria.
BuzzFeed News reported last week that 911 people died following Hurricane Maria, and a spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety said the deaths were not related to the hurricane but were instead caused by “natural causes.”
BuzzFeed reported that none of the bodies were examined by a medical examiner for consideration to be included in the Maria death toll. The spokesperson said the classifications of death by “natural causes” were made by reviewing records and not inspection by medical examiners. Those bodies were cremated before medical examiners looked at them.
Top Democrats called on the Department of Homeland Security earlier this month to provide accurate death counts following the hurricane.
“We urge you to provide all necessary resources to confirm that storm-related deaths are being counted correctly," the senators wrote in the letter to acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke.
The senators argued that the official death toll does not include about 450 people who have died since the hurricane or 69 people who have been reported missing, all of whom have been included in various media reports.