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Judge Rejects Puerto Rico’s Stall, Orders Hurricane Death Data Released To CNN

Lisa de Moraes

A judge has ruled Puerto Rico must release death data related to Hurricane Maria, after CNN, and the Center for Investigative Journalism, sued to get the data.

The Puerto Rican government officially has put the official death toll at 64, but a Harvard study estimates more than 4,600 people may have died due to the storm. CNN sued to get the data even before the Harvard study came out, the cable news net reported this afternoon.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló last month told CNN there would be “hell to pay” if officials withheld records related to Maria-related deaths.

And yet, CNN reported today, his government filed a motion late Monday asking to stall delivery of death certificates and other data a judge had ordered to be released. That plea got ixnayed in court today.

The cable news network and journalist group sued for death certificates and databases in February after officials from the Puerto Rican Demographic Registry refused to provide them. A Puerto Rican judge on June 4 gave the government seven days to cough up death certificates, death databases, burial permits and other records, CNN reports.

Puerto Rico fought the release of these records in court, arguing that at least some parts of the records should be kept private out of concern for the privacy of the deceased, while the governor talked transparency in a May 31 interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, the network noted.

Cooper asked Rosselló why officials would not provide death records to the Harvard University researchers who were conducting an assessment of Maria’s death toll.

“If it’s true, Anderson, you know, there will be hell to pay,” Rosselló chest-thumped. “Because I really want this to be very transparent. I want the truth to come out. That’s the bottom line. And I want us to learn from this tragedy, so that we can prevent in the future something like this happening.”

In November, CNN surveyed 112 funeral homes across the island which is about half the total. In that survey alone, they found nearly 500 deaths were considered hurricane-related.

In May, researchers from Harvard and elsewhere published an article in The New England Journal of Medicine claiming an estimated 4,645 people may have died in the storm, basing findings on interviews with more than 3,000 households across Puerto Rico.

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