On Thursday, Puerto Rico governor Ricardo Rosselló announced the details of a working group to investigate the death count attributed to Hurricane María, the same day new demographic data shared with Latino USA by the island’s Department of Health showed an increase in September 2017 and October 2017 deaths.
According to the government of Puerto Rico, the official death count related to Hurricane María still stands at 64, but a December 7 story from the Center for Investigative Journalism and Latino USA said that for the 40 days after Hurricane María hit Puerto Rico, at least 985 additional people died, when compared to the same period in 2016. At the time of the December 7 story, 2,883 deaths were registered in September 2017 and 2,906 in October 2017, compared to 2,367 for September 2016 and 2,357 for October 2016.
Since then, Latino USA has been requesting updates to official demographic data, and on Thursday, new data revealed that September 2017 deaths were now at 2,904 (+21 since the December 7 report) deaths and October 2017 death were now at 3,017 deaths (+111 since the December 7 report).
As of this posting, there have now been a total of 537 more deaths in September 2017 when compared with September 2016, and 657 more deaths in October 2017 when compared to October 2017. The total two months combined would be 1,194 more deaths—making September 2017 and October 2017 the two months with the most deaths in Puerto Rico for the last three years.
Hurricane Irma hit Puerto Rico on September 7. Thirteen days later, Hurricane María struck, causing the entire island to lose power and communications.
Information for November and December is incomplete, although initial November 2017 data shows a small increase, when compared to November 2016.
Reporting from the CPI/Latino USA, the New York Times and independent researchers have all confirmed that the number of deaths in Puerto Rico after Hurricane María were significantly higher than the same time period in 2016.
The reporting resulted in a December 18 decision by Rosselló to establish a formal investigation into the death count. On Thursday, he shared specific details through an executive order about the working group behind the investigation.
“As part of the recovery process,” Rosselló said in a Spanish-language media release, “it’s important to guarantee the transparency of the damage caused to lives and security of our citizens.”
Executive Order 2018-001 would assign Secretary of Public Secretary Héctor Pesquera (the same person who has overseen the death recording process since María) to work with the island’s Demographic Registry and Bureau of Forensic Sciences with the goal of determining if a post-storm death was related to the hurricane or not. The order said that the working group must submit a report of its findings in 90 days.