Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló, said there would be “hell to pay” if it turned out that officials from his government withheld mortality statistics for Hurricane Maria.
On Thursday, Rosselló talked to CNN’s Anderson Cooper about what his government is doing to count up the deaths resulting from the September 2017 hurricane and responded to the new Harvard University study about the storm’s human toll.
The study concluded that the official death toll from the hurricane, currently set at 64, is off by a massive number: Researchers estimated the real death toll to be at least 4,645. They also said their calculation is “likely to be conservative” and the final death toll may actually exceed 5,000.
The researchers began by surveying several thousand households across Puerto Rico to estimate the real mortality rates in the immediate post-hurricane period. They compared those rates to the official mortality rates during the same time period the previous year to determine how many additional deaths Hurricane Maria may have caused.
The study said researchers had to develop the post-hurricane mortality statistics themselves because Puerto Rican officials did not release official numbers.
Rosselló told Cooper that he was “shocked” to hear this latter allegation and pointed to the executive order that he’d signed to release this information.
“If it’s true, Anderson, there will be hell to pay, because I really want this to be very transparent,” said Rosselló. “I want the truth to come out. That’s the bottom line. And I want us to learn from this tragedy.”
The governor also said that his government hired George Washington University to conduct an assessment of the death toll, but those researchers have been delayed because “the best data was not available.” That report was initially due this spring.
“We expected to have a phase-one analysis here by May 22, but, of course, data has been hard to come by with respect to that,” said Rosselló.
The 2018 hurricane season is officially underway and, eight months after Maria, many Puerto Ricans are still without power or reliable access to health care.