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Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez

Representing the 7th District of New York

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Members of Congress Seek Audit of Maria Death Toll

Members of Congress Seek Audit of Maria Death Toll
October 12, 2017
Press Release
With Conflicting Reports, Lawmakers Ask for Thorough Investigation into Total Fatalities
 
Washington, D.C. — Today, Reps. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY) and Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), the Ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Homeland Security, wrote the U.S. Department of Homeland Security asking for an investigation into underreporting in the official death toll following Hurricane Maria. 
 
In light of news reports suggesting that numbers could be much higher than the official count of 45 lives lost, the lawmakers asked for an official review of casualty counts. 
 
“The American people deserve to know what’s happening to their fellow U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico,” Velázquez said. “Given recent reports suggesting that the death toll is much higher than is being officially acknowledged, we need a swift and thorough investigation to ensure the real magnitude of this crisis is made public.”
 
“Having just been in Puerto Rico last weekend, it is clear that the real story of what is happening is not being told by this Administration,” said Thompson.  “The federal response is woefully adequate and now we are seeing numerous reports that the death toll is unknown or not being reported accurately.  The whole nation deserves to know what is happening to our fellow citizens.”  
 
The full text of the letter is below. For a PDF, click here
 
 
October 12, 2017
 
The Honorable Elaine C. Duke
Acting Secretary 
U.S. Department of Homeland of Security 
Washington, DC 20528
 
Dear Acting Secretary Duke:
 
We are writing with profound concern that Puerto Rico’s official death toll is being woefully underreported. Despite statements from the Administration praising the response efforts by Federal officials, accounts from individuals on the ground and media reports suggest casualty counts are much higher than being officially reported and are therefore distorting the grim realities facing the Island. 
 
Recent stories have detailed more than 450 people who died in the wake of Maria, yet only 45 of these deaths appear to be accounted for in official government reports.[1]  While it is unclear how many of these casualties are directly attributable to Maria, these numbers call into question the veracity of official governmental death counts.  Federal and local agencies need complete transparency from all entities working on this unraveling humanitarian crisis.  For all levels of government to provide an appropriate response, we cannot allow the devastation that Hurricane Maria inflicted and the dire circumstances still existing three weeks since the Hurricane made landfall to be obfuscated.
 
It would be morally reprehensible to intentionally underreport the true death toll to portray relief efforts as more successful than they are.  If, on the contrary, this information has benignly been muddled due to a lack of capacity on the island, then the Federal government must work hand in-hand with Puerto Rico’s government to provide a clearer assessment.  
 
To this end, we are requesting that your agency provide urgent oversight to the vital statistics being reported out of Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria. The American people and their elected officials need a full, fair and accurate portrayal of the situation unfolding in the Island. We would therefore respectfully request that the Department of Homeland Security:
 
Examine all casualty estimates being provided by any Federal agency and local authorities in Puerto Rico; 
Evaluate whether these counts are accurate and whether the methodology being employed is sufficient; and
Report these findings back to Congress within 10 business days.  
 
Given the severity of the situation unfolding in Puerto Rico, it is important that Congress have a full accounting of the facts. We thank you in advance for your swift consideration of this request.  
 
     Sincerely,
 
 
 
 
Nydia M. Velázquez                                                                           Bennie G. Thompson
Member of Congress                                                                           Ranking Member
                                                                                                            Committee on Homeland        
Security           
                                                
 
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