We knew it was bad, but not this bad.
The government of Puerto Rico has quietly acknowledged that more than 1,400 people died in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria — 20 times higher than the official death toll publicly released.
In a report posted online, the government said 1,427 more people died in the final third of 2017 compared with the same period the year before.
“Although the official death count from the Puerto Rico Department of Public Safety was initially 64, the toll appears to be much higher,” said the report, titled “Transformation and Innovation in the Wake of Devastation.”
In another section, the report said: “According to initial reports, 64 lives were lost. That estimate was later revised to 1,427.”
Pedro Cerame, a spokesman for the Puerto Rican government’s Federal Affairs Administration, sought to qualify the new numbers.
“We don’t want to say it out loud or publicize it as an official number. The official number will come, and it could be close. But until we see the study, and have the accuracy, we won’t be able to recognize the number as official," Cerme said, The New York Times reported.
Mr. Cerame acknowledged that the final version of the report hedges the language to say that the additional deaths “may or may not be attributable” to the storm; the 1,427 figure was also deleted from a chart.
“I want to emphasize, though, that we have always expected the number to be higher,” he said in an email. “The estimate provided was done using data from the Demographic Registry which was made available to the members of the media.”
The draft report, set for official release Thursday, will also ask Congress for $139 billion in recovery funds.