The Puerto Rican government told BuzzFeed News Friday that it allowed 911 bodies to be cremated since Hurricane Maria made landfall, and that not one of them were physically examined by a government medical examiner to determine if it should be included in the official death toll. Every one of the 911 died of "natural causes" not related to the devastating storm, said Karixia Ortiz Serrano, a spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety who is also speaking for the Institute of Forensic Sciences — which is in charge of confirming hurricane deaths. The "natural causes" designations were made by reviewing records, not actually examining the bodies, she said.
What should be counted as a disaster related death?
Without guidance, different funeral home and crematorium directors told BuzzFeed News they had vastly different ideas of what they considered hurricane-related deaths. Some said they counted heart attacks and people who died for lack of oxygen because there was no power, while others said they counted those as "natural deaths." Disaster death toll experts told BuzzFeed News cases should definitely be counted, and that they were in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal appears to be fearing the worse, i.e., the Trump administration is intentionally misinforming the public.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, added, "I intend to take any and all available steps to get to the bottom of the increasing appearance of misinformation in Hurricane Maria recovery efforts."