Sen. Richard Blumenthal wants the Trump administration to take responsibility for the death toll in Puerto Rico as a result of Hurricane Maria, which a new study has now pegged at almost 5,000.
Blumenthal spoke to local Puerto Rican leadership Wednesday in New Haven and called for a congressional hearing to be convened to investigate the federal government’s response to the natural disaster.
“The death toll—4,645 individuals—was avoidable,” Blumenthal said. “If the Trump administration had responded with the urgency and seriousness that were required, many of those deaths could’ve been prevented. Many of those lives could’ve been saved.”
The senator asked for the meeting after a Harvard University study revealed earlier this week that 4,645 people had died from the time the storm hit to the end of last year. That’s roughly 73 times more than the official death toll provided by the Puerto Rican government.
“We’re here today to figure out what the gameplan is, what is it we’re going to do, and what’s the best way to hold people accountable because this is clearly 5,000 deaths due to negligence by the federal government,” said Jason Ortiz, who’s the president of the Connecticut Puerto Rican Agenda. “There’s no way around that that these people could’ve been saved had we gotten there faster.”
Ortiz said the death toll could now be even higher since the Harvard study only had numbers through December and some towns on the island are still without power--many residents still don’t have access to supplies they desperately need.
Blumenthal said an improved response is even more urgent, with hurricane season beginning this week.
“The power grid has been put back together—temporarily repaired,” Blumenthal said. “But it is no more resilient, no more resistant to these kinds of massive storms than it was a year ago.”
The power grid was already weak in Puerto Rico before the storm hit and then Maria devastated it. This past April, nearly a million people lost power after a tree fell. Six days later, the entire island was without power when a transmission line failed.