The Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics (PRIS) on Friday filed suit to compel the territory's health department and demographic registry to make data on deaths in Puerto Rico publicly accessible on a daily basis.
PRIS is an independent government agency, and it originally requested "reliable, comparable, and accessible" mortality data from the other two agencies in April, arguing that "there is considerable public interest in knowing with certainty the number of deaths that occurred due to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, in a manner that is comparable to other similar disasters, for which it is necessary to conduct a case-level epidemiological study."
That request has gone unfulfilled, and PRIS opened the lawsuit following the Thursday publication of a Harvard study putting the Maria death toll around 4,500, some 70 times the official estimate of 64.
The 2018 hurricane season began June 1, but Puerto Rico is still grappling with the destruction of 2017's Hurricane Maria. Some 11,000 Puerto Ricans remain without power provided by the electrical grid, and local leaders say they feel unprepared for another major storm. Bonnie Kristian
Five weeks after Hurricane Maria crippled Puerto Rico, islanders are actually losing power rather than gaining it back. Now just 18 percent of Puerto Ricans have electricity, down 3.2 percent from earlier this month, BBC's James Cook reports.
— James Cook (@BBCJamesCook) October 24, 2017
"Almost two-thirds of Puerto Rico's electricity generation capacity is located in the southern portion of the island, and most of the population is concentrated in the north," writes the U.S. Energy Information Administration in its Tuesday report. "Some of the electricity generated in the south of the island must be transmitted on long-distance transmission lines to the north, but many of those transmission lines were damaged by Hurricane Maria."
"It's like going back in time," Kevin Jose Sanchez Gonzalez, 25, told The New York Times of having to learn to improvise without electricity. An estimated 73 percent of Puerto Ricans now have drinkable water and 79 percent of gas stations are open, the most recent situation report adds.
On Monday, The Washington Post reported that the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) signed a contract worth up to $300 million with Whitefish Energy to work on the island's ravaged electrical infrastructure. When Maria hit, two-year-old Whitefish — based in Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's hometown — had just two employees. Jeva Lange
The USNS Comfort, a floating state-of-the-art hospital, is anchored off the coast of hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, with 250 hospital beds for patients in the U.S. territory unable be served by overcrowded hospitals and clinics lacking supplies and reliable electricity. Only 33 of those beds, or 13 percent, are filled, CNN reports, two weeks after the Comfort's arrival. The problem, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló told CNN, is "the communication flow" between clinics, doctors, and Puerto Rico's Department of Health. "I asked for a complete revision of that so that we can now start sending more patients over there," he said.
"I know that we have capacity," Capt. Kevin Robinson, the Comfort's mission commander, tells CNN. "I know that we have the capability to help. What the situation on the ground is ... that's not in my lane to make a decision."
Almost a month after Hurricane Maria crawled across Puerto Rico, 86 percent of the island has no electricity, 28 percent has no drinking water, most cell towers and antennas are down, and the official death toll stands at 48. President Trump's approval rating on hurricane response has dropped 20 points from mid-September, according to a CNN poll conducted Oct. 12-15, to 44 percent from 64 percent after Hurricanes Irma and Harvey. A 47 percent plurality now disapprove of Trump's hurricane response, the poll found, and his hurricane approval number among Hispanics is 22 percent. The national poll of 1,010 adults has a margin of sampling error of ±3.5 points. Peter Weber
Three weeks after Hurricane Maria slammed Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, 85 percent of the U.S. territory doesn't have power, 40 percent of residents don't have drinkable water, and with so many homes destroyed and conditions improving at a slow pace, tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans have fled to the continental U.S., some of them probably permanently. The Trump administration let its Jones Act waiver lapse on Sunday night, with no plans to reinstate it, and Gov. Ricardo Rosselló told CBS News correspondent David Begnaud on Tuesday that he would prefer the shipping restrictions be lifted again, because "at this juncture, why not use all the tools available?"
The death toll from the hurricane is officially about 34, though it's probably higher, and Rosselló told Begnaud he's really worried about a public health crisis tied to contaminated water. At least two people have died from the bacterial infection leptospirosis and at least five others are being treated for symptoms.
"It's really hard to find clean drinking water on this island," Begnaud said in his report Tuesday night. Rosselló "has taken it delicately, I would say, with FEMA and his federal partners. He's given credit to FEMA and the federal government, President Trump specifically, for helping him out, but whatever help is being given is not happening enough, that's the bottom line. It's three weeks since this hurricane, and there's not enough water on this island, that people so desperately need."
"What do you want from your government?" Begnaud asked local police officer Daniel Pacheco. "Just to show up," he said. "We're just asking for people to move the gas, people to move the food." Peter Weber
Puerto Rico's official death toll from Hurricane Maria is, as of this writing, 36 — but that number may be far too low. BuzzFeed News journalists who spoke to funeral home directors in San Juan as well as two small towns in the island's interior report there are "significantly more corpses" with storm-related deaths than have been counted by the government.
In San Juan specifically, there are "dozens of bodies" at four funeral homes which are not included in the official tally. How many of those deaths are storm-related is unknown.
The situation is more complicated still in smaller towns far from the coast, where thousands of people remain internally displaced and medical services are under-supplied and overworked. Many hospitals remain "without electricity and communications, reliant on generators and running short of vital medications," the Los Angeles Times reports, more than two weeks after Maria made landfall. That means additional indirect storm deaths continue to be a real possibility, especially in isolated communities.
While BuzzFeed's report notes a comparatively low death toll has been a point of pride for President Trump, much of the disparity between the official count and the reality on the ground is likely due to poor communications capabilities. About 95 percent of the territory is still without electricity, which makes an accurate number difficult to determine. Bonnie Kristian
President Trump's whirlwind visit to Puerto Rico on Tuesday resulted in gaffes such as Trump telling a homeowner without electricity to "have a good time" and pretending to shoot hoops with paper towel rolls.
Perhaps most of all, Trump was baffled by aid work in the U.S. territory. "Flashlights. You don't need 'em anymore," he told a crowd in a chapel, despite the fact that 95 percent of the island is still without power. He was particularly bewildered by water purification techniques, which are essential to islanders' survival due to the fact that many parts of Puerto Rico remain without drinkable water:
— Vera Bergengruen (@VeraMBergen) October 4, 2017
"Yes, she'd drink it, because it's the only water she has," Stephen Colbert quipped on The Late Show. "Just like she's only talking to you because you're the only president we got." Read the full report at The Washington Post, and read Paul Waldman on what it's like to have a president "utterly devoid of empathy" here at The Week. Jeva Lange
President Trump promised relief for debt-wracked and hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico on Tuesday, although he was not clear on specifics. "We're going to do something," Trump told Fox News' Geraldo Rivera on Hannity. "We're going to get it back on its feet."
Puerto Rico's $73 billion in debt stems from a recession that began in 2006, and complications with the fact that by virtue of being a territory, the island cannot invoke bankruptcy. It isn't clear if the federal government can simply erase what San Juan owes, especially as the debt is held by a constellation of sources, ranging from "big hedge funds" to "middle-class Puerto Ricans who thought it would make a safe retirement nest egg," The New York Times writes.
"You know, they owe a lot of money to your friends on Wall Street, and we're going to have to wipe that out," Trump told Rivera. "You can say goodbye to that. I don't know if it's Goldman Sachs, but whoever it is, you can wave goodbye to that." Jeva Lange
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello announced Tuesday night that the death toll there from Hurricane Maria has risen from 16 to 34.
The U.S. territory is still reeling from the devastating hurricane that hit on Sept. 20 — the governor's office said 95 percent of the island remains without power and just 47 percent of water customers have access to clean drinking water.
President Trump visited San Juan earlier Tuesday, and said that "every death is a horror, but if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina, and you look at the hundreds and hundreds of people that died ... you can be very proud [the death toll is] 16 people versus in the thousands." Rossello later said he believes that after flying over Puerto Rico and looking at the damage, Trump better understands how much destruction Maria caused, ABC News reports. Catherine Garcia