Puerto Rico agency sues government to obtain Hurricane Maria death data

Puerto Rico agency sues government to obtain Hurricane Maria death data
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Puerto Rico's Institute of Statistics is suing the U.S. territory's health department and demographic registry to acquire data on the number of people who died as a result of Hurricane Maria. 

The agency filed the lawsuit on Thursday, according to The Associated Press, just days after a study in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that the U.S. government substantially underestimated the death count from Hurricane Maria. 

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The research team concluded that nearly 5,000 people died as a result of Hurricane Maria, more than 70 times the official government death toll of 64. 

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said on CNN that there would be "hell to pay" if officials withheld data about deaths.

The director of Puerto Rico's Institute of Statistics, Mario Marazzi-Santiago, told The Associated Press on Friday that the data should be public in order to prevent a similar situation in the future. 

"We want to make sure that when the next hurricane arrives, we don't have a repeat of this situation," Marazzi-Santiago said. "Given the doubt that has arisen around the world ... we recommend a higher level of transparency."

Government officials have said they cannot disclose mortality data on Hurricane Maria because it is under a review ordered by the governor, according to the AP.

After the New England Journal of Medicine study was released this week, Carlos Mercader, the executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, released a statement saying that the government looks forward to analyzing it.

"As the world knows, the magnitude of this tragic disaster caused by Hurricane Maria resulted in many fatalities," Mercader said. "We have always expected the number to be higher than what was previously reported. That is why we commissioned The George Washington University to carry out a thorough study on the number of fatalities caused by Hurricane Maria which will be released soon.  Both studies will help us better prepare for future natural disasters and prevent lives from being lost.”