Puerto Rico’s government said Tuesday it will comply with a court ruling that orders officials to release all death certificates issued after Hurricane Maria hit the U.S. territory amid allegations that the official death toll of 64 is severely undercounted.
The court said in its ruling earlier in the day that the government also has to turn over other information, including copies of all burial and cremation permits issued after the Category 4 storm and allow access to the demographic registrar’s database that details causes of death.
The government has seven days to comply with the ruling, which responds to a lawsuit filed by CNN and Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism.
The ruling comes just days after Puerto Rico’s Institute of Statistics filed a lawsuit against the island’s health department and demographic registry seeking more data on the number of deaths reported after Maria. Hours after that lawsuit was filed, the health department said that an additional 1,397 overall deaths were reported from September to December in 2017, compared with the same period the previous year. However, officials did not provide causes of death for any of the 11,459 total people deceased during the period.
A Harvard study published last week estimates that there were up to 4,600 more deaths than usual in the three months after Maria, although some independent experts questioned the methods and the number in that study. Previous studies have found that the number of direct and indirect hurricane-related deaths is higher than the official toll, including a 2017 report that said there were nearly 500 more deaths than usual on the island in September.