Health & Medicine

The real death toll in Puerto Rico is probably 450 — much higher than the official count

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A young girl looks back after getting her shoe stuck in the mud while carrying supplies delivered by soldiers working with a 101st Airborne Division "Dustoff" unit during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria.

Credit:

Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Three weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, we’ve seen images of the destruction and heard stories about the lack of electricity and basic supplies like food and water in some areas.

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

But the main way we measure — and understand — the scope of any disaster is through the death toll.

The official count is now 48 deaths. But the news site Vox thought that number seemed off.

“We knew from reports on the ground, and investigative journalists who've also been looking into this, that this was very likely way too low of a number,” said Eliza Barclay, an editor at Vox.

So they dug into the numbers, cross-checking with news reports, and found that the number of casualties resulting from the hurricane was probably much closer to 450.

Two members of Congress have now announced they will request an audit of the official death toll.

Here are a few highlights from Vox’s report:

  • At the time of the report, the official death toll was 43.
  • National and local news outlets reported an additional 36 deaths attributed to the hurricane.
  • NPR reported an additional 49 bodies with unidentified cause of death sent to a hospital morgue since the storm.
  • The Los Angeles Times reported 50 more deaths than normal in one region in the three days after the hurricane.
  • Puerto Rico's Center for Investigative Reporting found 69 hospital morgues were are at “capacity.”
  • According to El Vocero newspaper, 350 bodies are being stored at the Institute of Forensic Sciences awaiting autopsies, but it’s not clear how many of them were there before the hurricane.

Listen to The World’s full interview with Vox’s Eliza Barclay, above.