Referencing a January 4 executive order from the governor of Puerto Rico, a spokesperson for the island’s Department of Public Security told Latino USA on Thursday that there will be no more updates to Hurricane María-related deaths until a formal report is completed.
“En virtud de la Orden Ejecutiva 2018-001 que ordena la investigación y revisión de las muertes asociadas al huracán María, el equipo de trabajo está en ese proceso y cuando se prepare el informe se divulgarán todos los detalles,” Karixia Ortiz responded via email. (Latino USA translation: “In accordance with Executive Order 2018-001 which calls for the investigation and review of deaths associated with Hurricane María, the working group is in the process of following this, and once the report is prepared, all details will be shared.”)
On January 4, governor Ricardo Rosselló announced the formation of a working group to determine if a post-storm death was related to the hurricane or not. The working group consists of Secretary of Public Security Héctor Pesquera (the same person who has overseen the death recording process since María), the island’s Demographic Registry and its Bureau of Forensic Sciences. The executive order said that the working group must submit a report of its findings in 90 days—so the report could be published any time from now until the beginning of April.
When asked exactly when the report would be published, Ortiz has yet to respond to that question.
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. In addition, on January 4, Latino USA conducted an analysis of the latest data from the Puerto Rican government and reported the following: there were 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.
The government of Puerto Rico’s official death count from Hurricane María is at 64.
Since that story, Latino USA has been frequently contacting the island’s Department of Health (which oversees the Demographic Registry) and the Department of Public Security to see if it can receive updated data for the last four months of 2017. Ortiz’s email on Thursday was the first formal response from her to Latino USA‘s series of requests.
Meanwhile, Puerto Rico’s Department of Statistics, an independent government agency with a history of correcting inaccuracies in data reporting by other government departments (including reports from the Department of Health), is facing the possibility of getting cut, due to the island’s fiscal problems.