The government of Puerto Rico is acknowledging that the official death toll from Hurricane Maria is more than 1,400 — much higher than the 64 people reported dead by the government initially.
In a report posted online, the government said the amount of deaths is 1,427, based on health records. This is based on the number of deaths in the last four months of 2017 versus the same timeframe for the four previous years.
More than 527,000 homeowners reported damages to their dwellings and 40 schools were forced to permanently close because of damages. The death count grew as people died from suicide, bacterial illnesses and a lack of access to healthcare and despite new counts, the death tally has never changed until now.
“Although the official death count from the Puerto Rico Department of Public Safety was initially 64, the toll appears to be much higher,” the report explained. The document was meant to outline the government's recovery plan and estimated that $125 billion will be needed over the next 10 years to rebuild the island nation, with $35 billion already being allocated to Puerto Rico.
The government was harshly criticized for downplaying the number of deaths from the September 27, 2017 storm. In a New York Times investigation, the number of deaths were estimated to be 1,052 based on island records, while Harvard University estimated between 800-8500 people died. The New England Journal of Medicine suggested that there were more than 4,600 "excess deaths," suggesting this is one of the most deadly storms on US soil in more than a century.
The low death count caused protests in San Juan and in response, the public laid out thousands of pairs of shoes outside the Capitol building to represent the dead who went uncounted.
However, in the months since the disaster, President Donald Trump has remained silent about the island's struggle to recover, with him only addressing the death toll in a post-Maria visit to the island when he suggested that the storm wasn't a “real catastrophe” like Hurricane Katrina.
“I’ve been to Puerto Rico many times as, I think, most of you have known," he said in October. "Every death is a horror. But if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina, and you look at the tremendous hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died, and you look at what happened here with, really, a storm that was just totally overpowering — nobody has ever seen anything like this. What is your death count, as of this moment — 17?”
As a prolific tweeter, it's remarkable that Trump hasn't mentioned the hurricane on social media since November, but he did give himself "a 10" out of 10 on his response to the situation.