• Puerto Rico's empty shoes: Public demands transparency in Hurricane Maria death toll

    By: Lauren Padgett, Cox Media Group National Content Desk

    Updated:

    PUERTO RICO - Over 400 pairs of empty shoes appeared in San Juan, Puerto Rico, outside the capital building on Friday.

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    It is a growing memorial to the hundreds of people presumed dead during or in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. This comes after a Harvard report published in the New England Journal of Medicine estimated that there were up to 4,600 more deaths than usual in the three months after Hurricane Maria.

    Read: Study: Puerto Rico death toll 4,600 higher post-Maria

    Some independent experts questioned the methods and the number in that study.

    Puerto Rico’s Institute of Statistics announced Friday that it has sued the U.S. territory's health department and demographic registry, to obtain data on the number of deaths following Hurricane Maria, the AP reports.

    Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello told CNN there would be “hell to pay” if officials do not release the death statistics.

    The government released additional information Friday, saying an additional 1,397 overall deaths were reported in the aftermath of the storm, from September to December 2017, according to the Washington Post.

    Officials have not released the cause of death in any of those cases.

    A spokeswoman for the island's health department, which oversees the demographic registry, did not respond to the AP’s request for comment.

    Many officials and people in Puerto Rico believe the official death toll of 64 from Hurricane Maria is severely underestimated. 

    In February, Puerto Rico announced that a team of experts from George Washington University would lead an independent review of the official death count. 

    The group’s preliminary report was due before hurricane season began June 1, but the team has been granted more time.

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