October 20, 2017

Cortez Masto, Senate Colleagues: Reports Indicate Actual Death Count in Puerto Rico May Be 10x Greater

Las Vegas, Nev. – U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) joined Senate colleagues in signing a letter urging the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to ensure the accuracy of the official fatality count in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

"We urge you to provide all necessary resources to confirm that storm-related deaths are being counted correctly, to ensure that there is sufficient cooperation with local authorities to obtain accurate information, to verify that the methodology for calculating fatalities in Puerto Rico accords with best practices and does not undercount, and to report back to us on when you will be able to provide an accurate total," wrote the senators.

The official death count is currently 48, but the senators cited a comprehensive analysis of numerous media reports indicating "deaths of more than 450 additional people since the hurricane, and 69 people have been reported missing."

"The need for an accurate death toll is especially important because President Trump seems to be using the number of fatalities to determine the quality of the disaster response," wrote the senators. "Given President Trump's recent threat to withdraw relief workers from Puerto Rico, it is crucial that he and the public not receive erroneously low fatality totals," they continued.

Residents of Puerto Rico are facing a number of life-threatening dangers in the aftermath of the hurricane, including serious illness and the possible spread of diseases resulting from contaminated water sources. 

The letter was led by U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and echoes similar calls from U.S. Representatives Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.) and Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.). In addition to Senator Cortez Masto, the following senators joined the letter: U.S. Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).

Please find the text of the letter here.