Speed Reads

Hurricane Maria

Puerto Rican funeral homes say Maria's death toll is much higher than reported

Puerto Rico's official death toll from Hurricane Maria is, as of this writing, 36 — but that number may be far too low. BuzzFeed News journalists who spoke to funeral home directors in San Juan as well as two small towns in the island's interior report there are "significantly more corpses" with storm-related deaths than have been counted by the government.

In San Juan specifically, there are "dozens of bodies" at four funeral homes which are not included in the official tally. How many of those deaths are storm-related is unknown.

The situation is more complicated still in smaller towns far from the coast, where thousands of people remain internally displaced and medical services are under-supplied and overworked. Many hospitals remain "without electricity and communications, reliant on generators and running short of vital medications," the Los Angeles Times reports, more than two weeks after Maria made landfall. That means additional indirect storm deaths continue to be a real possibility, especially in isolated communities.

While BuzzFeed's report notes a comparatively low death toll has been a point of pride for President Trump, much of the disparity between the official count and the reality on the ground is likely due to poor communications capabilities. About 95 percent of the territory is still without electricity, which makes an accurate number difficult to determine.