Velazquez bill to regulate death counts following natural disasters clears the House

Photo by U.S. Navy via Flickr

Congress passed a bill by Queens and Brooklyn Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez on Oct. 10 that will regulate how death tolls are accounted for following disasters such as Hurricane Maria, which last year killed over 3,000 people in Puerto Rico, but did not reflect figures from the Trump administration.

A number of studies have claimed different death tallies attributed to Maria, including a Harvard School of Public Health estimate that ranged between 793 up to 8,498 for the death toll.

A George Washington University study claimed 2,975 deaths could be blamed on the deathly hurricane.

“For months, after Maria devastated Puerto Rico, the local government claimed the death toll was only 64, while anecdotal evidence suggested it was tragically higher,” Velázquez noted. “We also watched as Donald Trump pointed to the artificially low death toll as evidence that his Administration was responding appropriately, when, in reality, a humanitarian catastrophe was befalling our fellow American citizens.”

With bipartisan support in the House of Representatives, Velazquez anticipates the bill known as the COUNT Act to also pass the U.S. Senate shortly after.

But President Trump lashed out at the estimated death tolls claiming a much lower figure of 16 for official deaths, which Velazquez disputes as a move to make the FEMA response under the White House administration look as though it had handle the disaster more appropriately than believed by much of the public.

Velazquez and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren led 130 other Congress members in calling for the president to retract his statement Twitter regarding the death toll and defending the GWU study numbers, which was commissioned by the government of Puerto Rico.

“It has been clear since the beginning that the President and this White House wanted to under count the loss of life in Puerto Rico to disguise the Administration’s bumbled response to this national tragedy,” Velázquez said. “That’s shameful and this bill will establish clear metrics following future catastrophes to make clear the severity of these tragedies.”

Velazquez also has legislation in the works to create 9/11 Commission style entity to evaluate the federal response to Hurricanes Maria and Irma in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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