The governor of the U.S. island territory of Puerto Rico on Monday ordered a recount of the death toll from the ravages of Hurricane Maria nearly three months ago, signaling that it could be significantly higher than the original figure of 64.
Governor Ricardo Rossello called for the reassessment after reports in recent days by The New York Times and Puerto Rico's Center for Investigative Journalism independently concluded that the storm caused more than 1,000 deaths when its intense rain and 248-kilometer-per-hour winds devastated the Caribbean island on September 20.
Rossello had previously resisted calls for a death recount, but said in a statement, "This is about more than numbers, these are lives: real people, leaving behind loved ones and families.
"We always expected that the number of hurricane-related deaths would increase as we received more factual information--not hearsay--and this review will ensure we are correctly counting everybody,'' he said. "We also want the most accurate count and understanding of how people lost their lives to fully account for the impact of these storms, and to identify ways in which we can prevent fatalities in advance of future disasters."
The new toll could account for deaths from "natural causes" that occurred after the storm, but were likely linked to the storm's destruction of the island's power grid and other utilities, significantly impacting rescue and health care efforts in the days and weeks after the storm.
Restoration of power for the 3.4 million people who live in Puerto Rico has been painstakingly slow, with more than a third of the island still without electricity.