BREAKING NEWS : Man in critical condition after shooting in Fort Wayne Full Story

FEMA official: Puerto Rico knows more about hurricane deaths than it has told the public

Puerto Rico appears to know more than it has let on about who died because of Hurricane Maria, a Federal Eme...

Posted: Sep 12, 2018 2:17 AM
Updated: Sep 12, 2018 2:17 AM

Puerto Rico appears to know more than it has let on about who died because of Hurricane Maria, a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) official told CNN.

Publicly, Puerto Rican officials have given details on only 64 individuals who died in the hurricane and its aftermath. Yet a FEMA official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told CNN that Puerto Rican authorities worked with the agency to co-investigate and confirm nearly four times that many hurricane-related deaths -- 247.

Accidents, disasters and safety

Caribbean

Continents and regions

Hurricane Maria

Hurricanes

Latin America

Natural disasters

North America

Puerto Rico

Severe weather

The Americas

Tropical storms

United States

Weather

Federal Emergency Management Agency

Government and public administration

Government bodies and offices

Government organizations - US

US Department of Homeland Security

US federal departments and agencies

US federal government

Funerals

Hurricane Irma

Families of the 247 people whose deaths FEMA confirmed to be storm-related as of September 5 received a total of $565,882 in assistance from FEMA to cover some funeral and burial expenses, according to Dasha Castillo, a FEMA spokeswoman. As of that date, 3,005 people had applied for that assistance in relation to deaths that happened after Maria or Hurricane Irma, Castillo said.

Of those, more than 2,350 cases are "currently in various phases of review and processing," she said. And 420 applications have been rejected, she said. Most of those -- 369 -- were dismissed because the agency was unable to contact the person who filed the application despite multiple attempts, according to FEMA. Only 11 of those rejected claims were found to be unrelated to Hurricane Maria, Castillo said.

The figures, which were previously unreleased, raise new questions about the speed at which federal and territorial government officials are investigating and paying claims related to people who died in Hurricanes Maria and Irma; they also highlight an apparent disconnect between what Puerto Rico officials have been saying publicly about the storm deaths and what they may have known in private.

Pedro Cerame, spokesman for Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló's administration in Washington, told CNN that FEMA uses somewhat different criteria to classify storm-related deaths.

"FEMA has its own guidelines and protocols for this," he said.

Their process is not linked to the government of Puerto Rico, he said.

Castillo, the FEMA spokeswoman, maintained that FEMA is in contact with Puerto Rico officials and is using information from the commonwealth's medical examiner's officer to make decisions. Furthermore, FEMA uses federal criteria from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to classify storm related deaths, she said. That's the same criteria Puerto Rico has said it uses.

"I'm not sure where they actually got that number," the unnamed FEMA official, who was not authorized to speak on the record, told CNN, referring to the 64 deaths reported publicly by Puerto Rico.

That list of 64 people has not been updated publicly for months.

Rosselló's government now admits an estimated 2,975 people died because of Hurricane Maria. But that's a statistical approximation of "excess deaths" produced by George Washington University and commissioned by Rosselló. Officials have released details only on 64 individuals who died because of the storm, which hit the US territory in the Caribbean one year ago this month.

The individual accounting -- not just the statistical estimation of deaths -- is important in part because FEMA pays funeral benefits only in cases in which a death is certified as being related to the disaster.

The review of storm-related deaths is a collaboration between Puerto Rico officials and those at the federal level, according to the unnamed FEMA official. "They're very heavily involved in all of these decisions" about whose deaths are tallied as storm-related, the FEMA worker said, referring to Puerto Rico officials.

The tally of Maria deaths has been the subject of controversy for months. CNN, the Centro de Periodismo Investigativo (CPI), The New York Times and others raised questions last year about the true toll of the storm. In an October 2017 press conference, President Donald Trump praised the island for having a relatively low death toll from the storm, then only 16. The figure jumped to 34 later that day.

It stood at 64 until August when George Washington University released its report.

For months, CNN has asked officials from Puerto Rico's Department of Public Safety to comment on specific deaths that the network found to be related to Maria based on federal guidelines from the CDC. Officials have refused to comment on most of the deaths CNN has investigated as storm-related, including those labeled in Puerto Rico's own mortality records -- which journalists from CNN and CPI sued to obtain -- as related to a "cataclysmic storm."

The inconsistency between the 247 deaths and the 64 reported by Puerto Rico officials does not make logical sense, said Ariadna Godreau Aubert, executive director of Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico, a group of attorneys that has been advocating on behalf of storm victims in Puerto Rico.

"There's nothing I can tell you to explain that lack of coherence" between the figures, she said. "It's the way they've been -- a lack of data and a lack of information throughout the entire recovery process."

It is "unfortunate" that it's taken so long for FEMA and Puerto Rico to review deaths and pay these benefits to the families of the deceased, said Gary Webb, a professor of emergency management and disaster science at the University of North Texas.

"For me, the main concern with this prolonged process is it's hindering the community recovery process -- the lack of closure," he said by phone. "[F]rom the perspective of those family members filling those claims it's almost an ongoing victimization -- or a re-victimization -- jumping through these bureaucratic hurdles."

FEMA said the investigations are complex and time-consuming.

"A lot of times when the individual applies we have to rely on the individual to get the information from the medical examiner's office -- and the death certificate," the FEMA official said. It all "takes time."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 76522

Reported Deaths: 3086
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion16194731
Lake7742281
Elkhart495586
Allen4040163
St. Joseph361083
Hamilton2887104
Vanderburgh205313
Hendricks1943108
Cass18069
Johnson1794119
Porter136239
Clark130750
Tippecanoe124511
Madison103066
LaPorte93530
Howard92065
Kosciusko87212
Floyd82249
Bartholomew82147
Marshall79423
Monroe76732
Delaware76052
Vigo71411
Dubois71312
Boone69746
Noble69029
Hancock68839
Jackson5975
Warrick58830
Shelby56828
LaGrange56610
Grant53130
Dearborn51628
Morgan48934
Clinton4504
Henry41820
Wayne38810
White37711
Montgomery36021
Lawrence35727
Harrison35224
Decatur34232
Putnam3218
Daviess27920
Miami2772
Scott27310
Jasper2572
Greene25434
Franklin24715
DeKalb2384
Gibson2334
Jennings22812
Steuben2153
Ripley2138
Carroll2003
Fayette1957
Perry18713
Posey1800
Starke1807
Orange17824
Wells1782
Fulton1732
Wabash1715
Jefferson1662
Knox1640
Whitley1566
Tipton14912
Washington1441
Sullivan1411
Spencer1393
Clay1315
Huntington1273
Randolph1274
Newton12110
Adams1172
Owen1051
Jay920
Rush894
Pulaski821
Fountain762
Brown752
Blackford662
Ohio656
Benton640
Pike620
Vermillion590
Parke551
Switzerland530
Martin500
Crawford450
Union410
Warren241
Unassigned0208

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 104248

Reported Deaths: 3734
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin18965531
Cuyahoga13869512
Hamilton9844259
Lucas5512326
Montgomery448998
Summit3667224
Butler303364
Marion294245
Mahoning2623256
Pickaway240042
Stark1904142
Warren185039
Lorain183177
Columbiana168360
Trumbull1563110
Fairfield143232
Delaware136519
Licking134551
Clark121315
Lake114642
Wood109058
Clermont96211
Medina95936
Miami86839
Tuscarawas79714
Allen79446
Portage77664
Greene73012
Mercer64113
Belmont62726
Richland61912
Erie61028
Ashtabula57746
Geauga56144
Wayne55459
Ross5094
Madison50310
Darke41429
Huron4115
Ottawa40426
Sandusky39917
Hancock3973
Athens3612
Holmes3316
Lawrence3180
Auglaize2756
Union2731
Scioto2591
Muskingum2481
Jefferson2403
Seneca2344
Shelby2154
Knox2147
Preble2122
Putnam21217
Washington21122
Coshocton1967
Champaign1882
Morrow1792
Crawford1775
Hardin17512
Clinton1716
Highland1692
Logan1672
Ashland1553
Fulton1551
Defiance1544
Wyandot1519
Brown1502
Perry1483
Williams1373
Fayette1240
Henry1222
Hocking1229
Guernsey1197
Carroll1135
Monroe9418
Pike800
Jackson770
Gallia741
Van Wert732
Paulding700
Adams642
Meigs580
Vinton322
Morgan300
Harrison261
Noble170
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Clear
68° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 60°
Feels Like: 68°
Angola
Clear
64° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 61°
Feels Like: 64°
Huntington
Scattered Clouds
65° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 65°
Decatur
Clear
68° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 60°
Feels Like: 68°
Van Wert
Clear
68° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 60°
Feels Like: 68°
Storm Chances Friday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events