By Michael Quiñones
December 18, 2017 03:41 PM
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(Photo by Andres Kudacki/TIME)

The governor of Puerto Rico has ordered a recount of the death toll from the aftereffects of Hurricane Maria on the island. The recount effort will re-assess deaths reported as “natural causes” in the weeks after the storm’s catastrophic strike. The official count stands at 64 dead, but several news organizations that conducted independent investigations found the number may be closer to 1,000.

On Dec. 7, Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism released a report showing that, within the 40 days since the storm’s landfall, there were at least 985 more deaths than during the same 40-day period in 2016, throwing into relief the implausibility of the local government’s count.

Similarly, a New York Times analysis on Dec. 9 found that 1,052 more deaths occurred after Hurricane Maria hit than in the same 42-day time frame in 2016 and 2015. The Times said September 25 was the deadliest day, with 135 deaths. By comparison, 75 people died on that day in 2016 while only 60 died in 2015.

CNN investigated as well, calling hundreds of funeral homes across Puerto Rico to gather their estimated number of hurricane-related fatalities for a Nov. 20 report. The results came to at least 499 associated deaths.

Aside from massive property damage from wind and flooding, the devastation from the strongest storm to cross the island in about 80 years saw complete power failure followed by extended blackouts, lasting months in some areas. Thousands found themselves without clean drinking water or means to communicate for weeks. Those most vulnerable of Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million U.S. citizens included hospital patients hooked up to respirators and dialysis machines as well as those in remote areas in need of medical treatment.

Gov. Ricardo Rossello with U.S. president Donald Trump in Washington, DC, on Oct. 19.
(Photo by Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images)

Gov. Ricardo A. Rosselló said in a Dec. 18 statement that he “welcomed recent news analysis on the number of hurricane-related deaths, and that they may be higher than the official count certified to date.” On Oct. 3, Rosselló told President Trump the death count was 16 though he expected the number to rise.

The death count results first gained national attention when many criticized the slow and underwhelming response from the U.S. government.