Puerto Rico Admits Death Toll from Hurricane Maria Closer to 1,427 and Displaced Citizens Face Possible Eviction
In a report to Congress submitted last week, Puerto Rico’s government admitted that the death toll from Hurricane Maria was much higher than the 64 it had previously reported -- approximately 1,427 more deaths occurred in the four months after the storm than "normal.” Governor Ricardo Rosselló’s government wrote in the report that the additional deaths came as a result of "cascading failures" in infrastructure across the island. Hurricane Maria knocked out power and water across Puerto Rico and caused widespread flooding that left many sick and elderly people unable to get medical treatment. "The hurricanes' devastating effects on people's health and safety cannot be overstated," Puerto Rican officials wrote in the report. The official death toll still stands at 67 for now; Puerto Rico stopped updating its official count and ordered an investigation amid reports that the number was substantially undercounted. Public Safety Department Secretary Héctor Pesquera said the new total will reflect the findings of the investigation, which is expected in the coming weeks. "This is not the official number of deaths attributable to Hurricane Maria," he said; some estimates have the number as high as 8,000. The island is now requesting $139 billion in recovery funds. LatinoJustice, a civil rights organization, has filed a class-action lawsuit challenging the FEMA’s decision to end its Transitional Sheltering Assistance program without having a long-term plan for the U.S. citizens who will be rendered homeless when federal aid runs out. The group argues FEMA is treating Puerto Ricans differently from other U.S. disaster survivors, alleging the federal agency is stopping the sheltering program prematurely and is failing to activate a long-term housing program that it used to help storm victims on the mainland after Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. Of the more than 1.1 million Puerto Ricans who registered for FEMA help after Hurricane Maria, two out of five applicants were deemed ineligible for various types of assistance. And when they tried to appeal, most (80%) were rejected for the programs. More here.