(Reuters)

How many people died in Hurricane Maria? It's a question we've been asking, and getting vague answers to, ever since the storm ended. The government of Puerto Rico has now revealed that many more people died in Hurricane Maria and its aftermath than was originally reported. The death toll from the storm on September 20, 2017 was suspected to be magnitudes higher than the official count of 64. A report to Congress, released today, confirmed that suspicion.

How many people died in Hurricane Maria?

So, how many people died in Hurricane Maria? In the report, which requests $139 million in recovery funds, the Puerto Rico government says that it's likely 1,427 people died in Hurricane Maria — 20 times higher than the original estimate.

“Although the official death count from the Puerto Rico Department of Public Safety was initially 64, the toll appears to be much higher,” said the report, titled “Transformation and Innovation in the Wake of Devastation.” It adds: "According to initial reports, 64 lives were lost. That estimate was later revised to 1,427.”

The official count of how many people died in Hurricane Maria might be higher still. To arrive at it, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló has commissioned a study from George Washington University’s school of public health.

 

"We definitely acknowledge this is a realistic estimate,” said Pedro Cerame, a spokesman for the Puerto Rican government’s Federal Affairs Administration, in the report to Congress. “We don’t want to say it out loud or publicize it as an official number. The official number will come, and it could be close. But until we see the study, and have the accuracy, we won’t be able to recognize the number as official.”

Last September, the category 4 Hurricane Maria was the strongest storm to make landfall in more than 80 years, battering an island that had not recovered from the recent Hurricane Irma. Power was knocked out to almost all of the island, which took months to repair in some cases. The government was criticized for underestimating the number of deaths. In the following weeks, there were reports that people died without access to lifesaving medications or technology but were not being counted.