Smucker Seeks Answers on Puerto Rico Death Toll

June 6, 2018
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker (PA-16) is seeking answers from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) about the impact of Hurricane Maria’s devastation on fellow Americans in Puerto Rico.

The official death toll in Puerto Rico as a result of Hurricane Maria is 64, while a recent Harvard study estimates that 4,645 deaths can be linked to the storm and its immediate aftermath. Because of this discrepancy, Rep. Smucker wrote to DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and FEMA Administrator Brock Long requesting information on the federal government’s process used to account for those who lost their lives as a direct or indirect result of Hurricane Maria. 

In his letter, Rep. Smucker said:

“The most important responsibility of the federal government is to provide for the safety and security of the American people. I believe this responsibility includes an accurate accounting of lives lost as a result of emergencies that require a federal response and resources.

“What these studies and reports indicate is that the severity of the storm’s impact is not fully understood, and no one can confidently give an accurate accounting for the tragic deaths that occurred as a result of Hurricane Maria.”

The full text of the letter is below, and a PDF is attached.

 

The Honorable Kirstjen M. Nielsen

Secretary

Department of Homeland Security

245 Murray Lane S.W.

Washington, D.C. 20528

 

Dear Secretary Nielsen,

I write today seeking answers about the impact of Hurricane Maria’s devastation on our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico. Pennsylvania has a large Puerto Rican population, and as a result of Hurricane Maria, many people have moved, and continue to move, to our commonwealth to restart their lives. While we are proud to provide support to the victims of the devastation and thankful for your efforts to provide assistance to the island, recent reports about the death toll require attention and the American people deserve answers.

According to a recent Associated Press report from San Juan, the official death toll in Puerto Rico as a result of Hurricane Maria is 64. The report further states that from September to December 2017, there were 11,459 total deaths on the island, but there is no information as to the cause of death for those individuals.

However, a recent Harvard study published in the New England Journal of Medicine estimates that 4,645 deaths can be linked to Hurricane Maria and the immediate aftermath of the storm. This is an alarming statistic in contrast to the official death toll of 64. I understand that some independent experts have questioned the method and result of the Harvard study, and understand that some discrepancy between studies is to be expected. However, the most important responsibility of the federal government is to provide for the safety and security of the American people. I believe this responsibility includes an accurate accounting of lives lost as a result of emergencies that require a federal response and resources.

What these studies and reports indicate is that the severity of the storm’s impact is not fully understood, and no one can confidently give an accurate accounting for the tragic deaths that occurred as a result of Hurricane Maria.

I am requesting information on the federal government’s process used to account for those who lost their lives as a direct or indirect result of Hurricane Maria. If during this process you develop alternate methods to account for an accurate death toll – or develop a new official death toll – I ask that you inform me and my colleagues of your findings as soon as possible.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. Please contact me or Andrew Robreno. I look forward to your timely response.

 

Sincerely,

Lloyd Smucker

Member of Congress

 

CC: Brock Long, FEMA Administrator

 

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