Initially set at 64 people, the official death toll on the U.S. island of Puerto Rico from last year’s strike by Hurricane Maria was raised to almost three thousand on Tuesday, instantly making that storm into one of the most deadly natural disasters in the history of the United States.
The report, done by a research arm of George Washington University, and released jointly with the Governor of Puerto Rico, went through an extensive mortality study from the storm, in order to figure out a more accurate assessment of the damage from the storm.
The 2,975 deaths on Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria is far more than the over 1,800 attributed to Hurricane Katrina, which struck the U.S. Gulf Coast in 2005.
Pressed for comment, the White House issued a statement on Tuesday evening reiterating its support for relief efforts in Puerto Rico, but not directly addressing the dramatic increase in the death toll.
“The President remains proud of all of the work the Federal family undertook to help our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement sent to reporters.
“The federal government has been, and will continue to be, supportive of Governor Rosselló's efforts to ensure a full accountability and transparency of fatalities resulting from last year's hurricanes,” Sanders added.
But on Capitol Hill, those words were empty for Democrats, who have long accused the White House of not doing enough in the wake of the damage in Puerto Rico, which left most of the island without power for months.
“The more we learn about the Trump administration’s mismanagement of the crisis in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, the more tragic the story becomes,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), as Democrats continue to charge that the President did too little, too late, for the island.
“The Trump administration’s lackluster response failed our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico,” said Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM).
“This is a catastrophic loss of American lives,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
“The latest death toll estimate in Puerto Rico further confirms the Administration's response to Hurricanes Maria & Irma was woefully inadequate,” said Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD).
The battle over aid for Puerto Rico has turned into an important story this election year in the state of Florida, where thousands of Puerto Rican residents relocated, after the storm wrecked their island.