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Puerto Rican lawmakers feel vindicated by new study's massive death toll estimate

Local officials in Puerto Rico are holding up new research as evidence that the government dismissed their very valid concerns about the effects of Hurricane Maria.

A new Harvard University study published in the New England Journal of Medicine estimated that more than 4,500 were killed in Puerto Rico as a result of Hurricane Maria, which pummeled the island last year. The official death count is just 64, which has been contested for months given the fact that much of the island still lacks power.

Federal government officials aren't backing down from the official death toll, NBC News reports, withholding further judgment until a commissioned study is finished later this year. But local lawmakers are glad that institutions like Harvard are backing what they've been saying for months — that the devastating effects of the hurricane have been severely underestimated.

"This is what I've been screaming at the top of my lungs," said San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, who donned a cap reading "4,645" on Wednesday to bring attention to the new estimate. Yulín Cruz also pointed at President Trump, blaming the administration's "inefficiency" for allowing Puerto Ricans to die. NBC News reports that Ortiz Velázquez, the mayor of Cayey, also tried to "warn" island officials that the death count was likely astronomical compared to the official toll.

But federal officials, including the White House, aren't accepting the new estimate as proof that the disaster response was insufficient. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Wednesday said that the government responded to the hurricane with the largest FEMA relief effort in history, not commenting on the number of Puerto Ricans who died in the following months. Read more at NBC News.