Puerto Rican journalists sue over under-reported hurricane death toll

Puerto Rican journalists sue over under-reported hurricane death toll
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A Puerto Rican journalists’ organization is suing the island’s Demographic Registry over what it says are under-reported death counts following Hurricane Maria.

The Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI) filed the suit Wednesday, arguing that the registry did not provide statistical updates on the death count after the hurricane, according to Latino USA.

The suit cites a right to “public information and high public interest for Puerto Rico."

The official death count from September’s hurricane is 64 people, but multiple analyses over the past few months have found that the actual total is likely to be over 1,000.

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Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló in December ordered a review and recount of the death toll. The government reported an unusually high number of deaths in the months following the hurricane, originally saying that they were unrelated to the disaster. But the government said later that many of the deaths could likely be attributed to lack of medical treatment due to blackouts and poor living conditions. 

CPI is one of the organizations that found the death toll to be significantly higher than the official count and has since been repeatedly contacting the Demographic Registry for updates. As of updates provided until Jan. 4, the group found that there were 1,194 more deaths in September and October 2017 than the same months the year before.

A spokesperson for Puerto Rico’s Department of Public Security told CPI on Feb. 1 that they would not provide any more updates on the death count until the governor’s review is complete, expected in early April.

The lawsuit requests that the department provide an updated database that includes the total number of 2017 deaths, death certificate information since late September, when the hurricane hit, and documents related to burial and cremation requests, according to Latino USA.