Puerto Rico Body Sues for Data to Help Track Hurricane Deaths

(Bloomberg) -- Puerto Rico’s statistics institute sued the island’s health secretariat for the timely release of current and future mortality records on the island, amid criticism that deaths in last year’s Hurricane Maria were grossly underreported.

The institute, an autonomous government entity that releases Puerto Rico data to the public, is seeking daily updates on deaths as the information becomes available. At present, no such resource is available, and the public had to rely on the governor and his cabinet for death count updates after last year’s storm.

The measure comes in a week when a Harvard University-backed study showed that some 5,000 people -- and maybe more -- may have perished as a result of Maria, even as the government’s official death count remained at 64. The extreme underestimating of fatalities may have contributed to what many on the island criticized as an inadequate federal response. Most outside experts had little recourse to challenge the official estimates as the catastrophe was unfolding.

"After the experience in Hurricane Maria, and with the new hurricane season beginning, it’s urgent to configure public information services so that after the next hurricane, information about fatalities registered in Puerto Rico flows in an open manner," Mario Marazzi-Santiago, the executive director of the institute, said in a press release.

The commonwealth’s health secretariat didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

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