Photo by U.S. Navy via Flickr
U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez passed a bill in Congress to regulate how death tolls are accounted for in disaster zones.
By Mark Hallum

Congress passed a bill by Queens and Brooklyn Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez 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 on the different death tallies attributed to Maria — including a Harvard School of Public Health — estimate that the death toll ranged between 793 and 8,498.

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, Velázquez anticipates the bill known as the COUNT Act to also pass the U.S. Senate shortly after.

President Trump lashed out at the estimated death tolls, claiming a much lower figure of 16 for official deaths, which Velázquez 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.

Velázquez and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren led 130 other Congress members in calling for the president to retract his statement 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.”

Velázquez 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.

Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhallum@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.

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