On Friday, Puerto Rican government officials admitted to approving the cremation of over 900 bodies after Hurricane Maria struck the island in late September according to BuzzFeed News. Puerto Rico’s governor claimed these deaths were the result of “natural causes.”
For a significant period of time following the hurricane, the death toll from the natural disaster remained at 16. The most recent count was 51 as of Tuesday. Trump said the body count was an indicator no “real catastrophe” took place on the island.
Karixia Ortiz Serrano, a spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety also speaking on behalf of the Institute of Forensic Sciences told Buzzfeed the deaths were related to “natural causes.” Ortiz said the “natural causes” conclusion was drawn after reviewing records. But none of the 911 bodies cremated were autopsied. As a result, they were never factored into Hurricane Maria’s official death count.
“These reports are extremely troubling — they provide even more reason to be concerned about the accuracy of the information we’re receiving,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts told BuzzFeed. “The Trump Administration needs to cooperate with Puerto Rican authorities and provide all the necessary resources to ensure the death toll is accurately counted.”
According to the publication, Puerto Rico gave funeral home directors permission to cremate the hundreds of corpses.
“I didn’t know the number, but certainly some of the deaths could have been for natural causes,” Puerto Rican governor Ricardo Rosello told reporters. “Those would obviously not be counted with the deaths that were a direct or indirect product of the hurricane.
“I know that a lot of people are saying that these are hurricane deaths, but understand that it could be a rumor,” Ortiz said. “We’re not saying that it’s false or true. But if we don’t receive those claims, we can’t look into it.”