SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- A Puerto Rico judge has ordered the Puerto Rican government to release data on Hurricane Maria-related deaths on the island.
- Puerto Rico ordered to release death records related to Maria
- Journalism organizations sued to get government to release information
- Puerto Rico government's official death toll stands at 64
- READ (in Spanish): Ruling in lawsuit brought by CNN and the Center for Investigative Journalism (PDF)
The list of documents that the government must hand over can be found in a 27-page court ruling, provided to us by Puerto Rico's Center for Investigative Journalism, one of the parties involved in a lawsuit against the island's Department of Demographic Registry.
Many say the government's official hurricane-related death toll of 64 is vastly underestimated, and perhaps thousands of deaths have not been accounted for.
A recent Harvard University study estimated more than 4,600 deaths can be linked to Hurricane Maria. Critics claim those numbers could be misleading as no official documentation was used to prove it.
The court ordered the release of the following documents dated between the end of September 2017 and January of this year: death certificates, burial permits, cremation permits, access to permits given to funeral homes and cremation centers and access to the database that holds information on causes of death.
The only information not to be released is the Social Security numbers on the death certificates.
A statement from Ramon Rosario Cortes, Puerto Rico's secretary of public affairs and public policy, sent to Spectrum News 13 in Spanish said, in part:
"The Government of Puerto Rico complied with what is expressly provided for in the Puerto Rico Demographic Registry Law. However, the court determined that both the CPI and CNN are interested parties. The Law of the Demographic Registry is clear in that an order of the Court can convert a party into an interested party beyond the requirements established by the Law, which is what happened in this case. Our policy, at the request of Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares, is to work with strict transparency and facilitate access to all public information, so we will be complying with what was recently ordered by the court."
The ruling says Puerto Rico has seven days to provide the information.
In the meantime, the island's government hired George Washington University to conduct another study to determine the number of deaths. The results of that are not yet released.