Deaths on Puerto Rico spiked sharply around the time Hurricane Maria devastated the US territory, newly released data from the island’s government show — perhaps dovetailing with assertions that the government’s official storm death toll is far too low.
The data show an increase of 1,431 overall deaths on Puerto Rico in September, October and November 2017 compared with the same three months the year earlier, and a jump of 1,720 deaths compared with the same three months in 2015.
However, the raw data released Friday by the island’s demographic registry does not specify causes of death — so it is unclear how much of the spike could be related to the storm, which slammed into Puerto Rico on September 20.
The data release comes days after a new Harvard University study estimated that 4,645 people died from Hurricane Maria and its aftermath — far more than the island’s official death toll of 64.
CNN and other news outlets have used government statistics and extensive interviews with families of the deceased and funeral home directors to question the Puerto Rican government’s official tally of deaths.
On Thursday, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said he did not stand by the official death toll, and that he welcomed the Harvard study results. But he said his government did the best it could with information-gathering protocol available at the time.
“We had established that this number was going to be much, much higher than what we had as an official tally,” he told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
“It’s not sticking with the number. It was just establishing that the process that we had prior led us to that number, which is what we got from doctors and death certificates.”
Maria wiped out Puerto Rico’s power grid, leaving the entire island in the dark in September. While most power and water service has been restored, thousands of people remain without electricity more than eight months after the storm hit.