Fifty-five people have died in Puerto Rico from causes related to Hurricane Maria — at least, that's the official number. An alarming survey of funeral homes by CNN puts the death toll much higher, at 499.
The 499 deaths reported by funeral homes include "indirect deaths," which are included in official death tolls and involve circumstances "in which a person likely would be alive if not for the storm and its aftermath," CNN explains. In one example, a man who died in a house fire started by an oil lamp he was only using because of the storm-caused power outage "should be part of the official death toll, according to Puerto Rico's Department of Public Safety." But to date, only a funeral home has recorded that death, CNN notes; it hasn't been counted toward the official number collected by the government.
CNN's survey only reached 112 of Puerto Rico's funeral homes, or about half, the head of the Puerto Rico Association of Funeral Home Directors confirmed. Additionally, "there's always a significant number of bodies that don't get processed through funeral homes," said Eric Klinenberg, the director of New York University's Institute for Public Knowledge. "What that tells me [is that] there are a lot more cases to be reported — and that number is probably going to spike again."
Mónica Menéndez, the deputy director of the local Bureau of Forensic Sciences, dismissed CNN's report, calling funeral home reports "rumors" and claiming "there's no reason for us to be hiding numbers." Read the full details and methodology of CNN's report here. Jeva Lange