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Members of Congress want a federal audit of the official Puerto Rico death toll

“The American people deserve to know what’s happening to their fellow US citizens in Puerto Rico.”

San Isidro, Puerto Rico, on on Oct. 5
Mario Tama/Getty Images

Two Democratic members of Congress on Thursday requested an audit of the death toll in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, amid concerns that the government is undercounting the number of victims.

The request cites a Vox report published Wednesday that found a significant discrepancy between the government’s official death toll of 45 and reports from the ground. Our analysis found a total of 81 deaths linked directly or indirectly to the hurricane; another 450 reported deaths, most of causes still unknown; and reports of at least 69 people still missing.

In their letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke, Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) and Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) wrote, “It would be morally reprehensible to intentionally underreport the true death toll to portray relief efforts as more successful than they are. If, on the contrary, this information has benignly been muddled due to a lack of capacity on the island, then the federal government must work hand-in-hand with Puerto Rico's government to provide a clearer assessment.”

Velazquez and Thompson went on to ask the Department of Homeland Security to do the following:

  • Conduct a federal examination of all death estimates provided by local authorities.
  • Evaluate the accuracy of such estimates and whether or not their methodology is appropriate.
  • Send a report of these findings to Congress within 10 days.

“The American people deserve to know what’s happening to their fellow U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico,” Velázquez said in a statement. “Given recent reports suggesting that the death toll is much higher than is being officially acknowledged, we need a swift and thorough investigation to ensure the real magnitude of this crisis is made public.”