With new reports of hundreds of corpses being stored in crowded morgues and burned to prevent the spread of disease, members of Congress are formally requesting the Department of Homeland Security perform an audit of the deaths in Puerto Rico caused by Hurricane Maria.
The official death toll for Puerto Rico’s victims of Hurricane Maria stands at 51. However, with various hospitals and governmental services crippled by a lack of power, there’s a general assumption that the number of deaths has been underreported. One of the aforementioned governmental services is the certification of official hurricane deaths, which is provided by the Institute of Forensic Sciences.
“Having just been in Puerto Rico last weekend, it is clear that the real story of what is happening is not being told by this Administration,” said Bennie Thompson (D-MS) in an official statement about the audit. “The federal response is woefully adequate and now we are seeing numerous reports that the death toll is unknown or not being reported accurately. The whole nation deserves to know what is happening to our fellow citizens.”
Aside from the obvious grief citizens face not knowing if their friends and family members in Puerto Rico are dead or alive, inaccuracies in the Hurricane Maria death count have serious financial ramifications. FEMA relief funds are issued, in part, based on the number of people injured or declared dead. Some of those cremated include victims who died in hospitals due to a lack of oxygen, dialysis treatment, or other services impacted by the lack of public utilities. The end result is potential for a perpetual cycle of death caused by the incompetence and callousness of a President who couldn’t be bothered to postpone his weekly golf trip to take action.
News of the audit request comes as a company with financial ties to President Trump has been awarded a $300 million contract to help restore Puerto Rico’s power grid. The contract, which FEMA is running away from as fast as it can, charges the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority near-extortionary rates for labor, lodging, and travel.
In short, we unfortunately have only begun seeing how truly devastating the situation is in Puerto Rico (and the U.S. Virgin Islands, which is still recommending that its residents boil their water before using it for anything). And all indications are that the current administration won’t be bothered to improve things.