October 19, 2017

Senator Warren, Colleagues Call on DHS to Take Concrete Steps to Ensure Accurate Accounting of Deceased Victims of Hurricane Maria

Reports Indicate Actual Death Count in Puerto Rico May Be 10x Greater than Official Tally

Text of the letter (PDF)

Washington, DC - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) today urged the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to ensure the accuracy of the official fatality count in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria, echoing similar calls from Representatives Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.) and Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.). Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) also joined the letter to DHS Acting Secretary Elaine Duke.

"We urge you to provide all necessary resources to confirm that storm-related deaths are being counted correctly, to ensure that there is sufficient cooperation with local authorities to obtain accurate information, to verify that the methodology for calculating fatalities in Puerto Rico accords with best practices and does not undercount, and to report back to us on when you will be able to provide an accurate total," wrote the senators.

The official death count is currently 48, but the senators cited a comprehensive analysis of numerous media reports indicating "deaths of more than 450 additional people since the hurricane, and 69 people have been reported missing."

"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," wrote the senators. "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," they continued.

Residents of Puerto Rico are facing a number of life-threatening dangers in the aftermath of the hurricane, including serious illness and the possible spread of diseases resulting from contaminated water sources.

In the weeks since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, Senator Warren has:

  • Called for Puerto Rico's debt relief during a Capitol Hill rally in coordination with the #JustRecovery march, and joined a FEMA briefing on the status of recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • Held community meetings in Massachusetts to discuss the economic and humanitarian crises on the islands.
  • Led a coalition of senators in a letter to President Trump, urging him to step up disaster recovery efforts on the Puerto Rican islands of Vieques and Culebra, and raising concerns about the potential health risks posed by the Superfund site on Vieques.
  • Pressed President Trump to take immediate action in response to the crisis in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • Urged HHS to provide additional resources and better coordinate efforts to combat the growing public health crisis on the ground.
  • Called on the President to use his authority under the Defense Production Act to more swiftly respond to the disaster.
  • Written to Republican leadership requesting that Congress be allowed to promptly take up legislation to provide the necessary aid to the U.S. citizens living on the islands.  
  • Asked President Trump to waive the local cost-sharing requirement for the hurricane response in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and for the federal government to fully cover recovery expenses, noting the challenging fiscal situation and extensive damage in both jurisdictions in calling for the waiver.