Recent reports suggest the death toll in Puerto Rico could be 70 times higher than previously reported
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and others have introduced legislation to require the Federal Emergency Management Agency to develop a new system for determining the number of fatalities caused by a natural disaster, such as Hurricane Maria.
The moves comes on the heels of recent reports that suggest the death toll in Puerto Rico could be 70 times higher than previously reported.
“These reports that suggest the death toll in Puerto Rico could be 70 times higher than previously reported are deeply troubling,” Nelson said. “People have a right to know the truth, and this bill will help ensure we have the most accurate information possible going forward.”
The legislation, which Nelson introduced Thursday with Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), would require FEMA to work with the National Academy of Medicine to determine best practices for local, state and federal government officials to use to assess mortality rates during and immediately after a disaster.
Currently, the process of determining a post-disaster death toll is left up to individual states and territories. While federal officials may be asked to help local officials determine the number of fatalities caused by a disaster, there is no agreed upon set of best practices to calculate the number of deaths.
Last month, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study estimating that anywhere between 800 and 8,500 deaths could be linked to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, a drastic increase over the official death toll of 64. Other estimates have suggested the death toll could approach 1,000.
In addition to Nelson and Harris, the bill was cosponsored by Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Tom Carper (D-DE) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).
The legislation now heads to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee for consideration.
Text of the legislation is available here.