The government of Puerto Rico released on Tuesday a database of information on all deaths that occurred after Hurricane Maria, which hit the island last September.
The information was released to CNN and another news organization and contains the death certificates of all those who died as a result of the devastating hurricane. Officials filed a motion on Monday asking a court to vacate a requirement that the data be delivered, in a clear bid to prevent the information from being delivered. The judge rejected the motion.
The database containing the death certificates was turned over to CNN and the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI) in Puerto Rico after they sued the Puerto Rican government in February for the records.
The data will serve to further investigate deaths following the storm, even though it will certainly include many deaths unrelated to Hurricane Maria. CNN writes that it plans to post the names of the deceased online and then ask readers to help investigate which of the deaths were related to the storm.
The government of the devastated island argued that the information needs to remain secret in order to protect the privacy of the families of the deceased. However, Puerto Rico Governor said that authorities were promoting transparency and therefore, the records need to be released to the public.
“I really want this to be very transparent,” the governor said in a May 31 interview. “I want the truth to come out. That’s the bottom line. And I want us to learn from this tragedy.”
The official death toll from the storm is 64, but evidence indicates that this number is much higher, reaching up to several thousand. Back in November, CNN surveyed over 100 funeral homes and found that funeral home directors and staff believed about 500 people had died for reasons related to the storm and its aftermath. In the months after the storm, researchers found that about 1,000 “excess deaths” appear to have occurred since the hurricane first hit the island.
On May 29, researchers from Harvard University and other institutions published the results of an extensive survey that suggested anywhere from 793 up to 8,498 people may have died as a result of the storm and its chaotic aftermath.