Due to the fact that recent reports indicate the actual fatality count in Puerto Rico is ten times larger than the official tally, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and several colleagues recently sent a joint letter to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Acting Secretary Elaine Duke requesting an accurate total of deceased victims caused by Hurricane Maria. With many Puerto Ricans still lacking electricity and clean water nearly four weeks later, Warren and her fellow senators asked for an accurate death count in order to assess disaster relief efforts while silencing the Trump administration’s incessant self-congratulation in the face of ongoing tragedy.
“We write to express our concern about the accuracy of the fatality count in Puerto Rico due to Hurricane Maria,” Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Edward Markey, Richard Blumenthal, Bernie Sanders, Chris Van Hollen, Dick Durbin, Kamala Harris, Ron Wyden, Catherine Cortez Masto, Sherrod Brown, Jeanne Shaheen, Cory Booker, and Brian Schatz wrote in a letter to Duke on Thursday.
“An accurate death toll is important for understanding the true severity of the situation on the ground, for recognizing potential problems and vulnerabilities, for assessing the quality of the disaster response so far and for setting policy going forward,” the senators continued. “Unfortunately, we have reason to believe the total might be understated. We urge you to take steps to ensure the correct current fatality count and to maintain its accuracy in the future.”
As of Thursday, the official death toll from Hurricane Maria rose to 48 deceased in Puerto Rico. But according to recent articles, at least 450 people have reportedly died since the hurricane with an additional 69 Puerto Ricans still missing. According to the Miami Herald, hospital morgues in Puerto Rico were filled to capacity last month with many families unaware of the deaths caused by Hurricane Maria.
“The aftermath of the hurricane continues to pose mortal danger to many people on Puerto Rico,” the senators wrote. “Water contamination is suspected to have led to deaths and cases of leptospirosis. There are concerns about dengue, chikungunya, and Zika. Puerto Ricans have been obtaining water from a contaminated Superfund site.”
EPA Superfund sites are federally designated hazardous-waste locations scheduled for cleanup in the future. Desperate for access to water, more than 35% of Puerto Ricans remain without safe drinking water.
“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,” the senators explained. “‘Sixteen people certified,’ he said of the death count during his visit to Puerto Rico. ‘Sixteen versus literally thousands of people. You can be very proud.’ He said this shortly after referring to ‘a real catastrophe like Katrina.’ 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.”
In addition to the letter, Warren also posted a video along with a tweet to President Trump that simply said, “Do your job.”
In the video, Warren asserted, “We are fighting to make sure that help that goes to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands goes to the people, not to Wall Street. Not one cent of that money should go to the vulture funds that snapped up Puerto Rican debt. Not one cent! So to the people of Puerto Rico, to the people of the Virgin Islands, we have not forgotten you.”