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Puerto Rico's hurricane death toll could be 10 times higher than reported, San Juan mayor says

Posted at 7:26 PM, Nov 03, 2017

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz said Friday the death toll from hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico is actually hundreds higher than official government counts.

"It appears that for whatever reason the death toll is much higher than what has been reported," Yulín Cruz said during an interview with CNN's Jake Tapper on "The Lead."

The official death toll stands at 54, according to a November 1 statement from the government of Puerto Rico, but the number of dead may be almost as high as 500, Yulín Cruz said when asked specifically about the death count.

Many hurricane victims haven't been included in that number due to their causes of death not being properly recorded or "being cataloged as dying of natural deaths," Yulín Cruz said.

"When they were, for example, hooked to a respirator, there's no power, the small generator that they had that gives up, and of course, they die of natural causes, but they are related to a lack of electricity," she said.

According to a statement released October 28 by the government of Puerto Rico, 911 bodies cremated in the weeks after Hurricane Maria were the result of natural causes. But the average number of cremations in Puerto Rico in the same time frame is about half that, Yulín Cruz said.

The secretary of the Department of Public Safety, Héctor M. Pesquera, said the cremations were authorized at the request of family members of the deceased. The cremations following a review of documents including death certificates and medical records showing the cause of death, he said.

The statement did not say whether bodies were examined prior to cremation, but noted that none of the 911 cremation authorizations raised suspicion "that would stop the requested process."

As for Puerto Ricans who survived the storm, living conditions are still dire, Yulín Cruz said, noting that some people on the island are still without power weeks after the storms hit.