Puerto Rico declines to examine nearly a thousand post-hurricane deaths

Hundreds of Puerto Ricans who have died since Hurricane Maria's landfall have been sent to crematoriums with no formal examination. This leaves no way of determining how many of these deaths were hurricane-related, according to critics, who argue that the "official" death count is grossly under-reporting the actual death toll.
By Vicky Webb | Oct 31, 2017
Puerto Rican authorities have approved the cremations of 911 Puerto Ricans who died since Hurricane Maria's September 20 arrival but have not carried out postmortem examinations of any of them, the island's Department of Public Safety confirmed yesterday. The announcement raises speculations that no one will ever know for sure just how many of these deaths are hurricane-related or, ultimately, exactly how many Puerto Rican lives Hurricane Maria took in all.

Secretary Hector Pesquera, secretary of Public Safety, said Saturday that the cremation authorizations came from the Institute of Forensic Sciences, a Puerto Rican agency that certifies deaths. He said that the institute ruled each death as due to "natural causes" and made no request for further examinations.

"The Institute of Forensic Science must, by law, authorize all of the cremations that are solicited by relatives of the deceased," Pesquera said in the statement. "In this process various documents are analyzed, among them, the death certificate, proof of death, the medical summary or the document that certifies and shows the circumstances of the death."

Pesquera also said that the "official" hurricane death tally is 51 dead. Many critics inside and outside Puerto Rico believe that it is much higher.

For example, crematorium staff told reporters that the cremated bodies include some people who when dialysis or oxygen machines they were on shut down in the hurricane-related power outages. None of them made it into the official death count, they said. Nor did some victims of leptospirosis, a waterborne disease that spread in the storm waters, according to local doctors.

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