The body of Josue Santos lies in a coffin at the Salinas Memorial Funeral Home in Salinas, Puerto Rico, 27 September 2017. Mr. Santos, 29, died of a heart condition the morning Hurricane Maria struck. Photo: Erika P. Rodriguez / The New York Times

By Omaya Sosa Pascual [translation by Google]
28 September 2017

(Centro de Periodismo Investigativo) – Leovigildo Cotté died in the middle of desperation for not getting the oxygen that sustained his life in the only shelter that exists in the town of Lajas which has been without electricity since the passage of Hurricane Maria a week ago. Neither his connections with the government saved him.

"The (electrical) plant never arrived," said the current mayor of Lajas, Marcos Turín Irizarry, who said that he sought oxygen for Cotté, father of the exalcalde of that same town, "even under the stones" and could not find it.

Cotté is one of the unreported victims of the Category 5 hurricane that devastated all of Puerto Rico last week with sustained winds with bursts of up to 200 miles per hour. On Wednesday, the Puerto Rican government still maintained that the official death toll due to the catastrophe was 16 people, but the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI) has confirmed that there are dozens and could be hundreds in the final count.

Hurricane-related fatalities continue to accrue per day without being counted in patients not receiving dialysis, oxygen, and other essential services.

He is exposed to people like Pedro Fontanez, 79, a lodging that is in the Pavia Hospital in Santurce, which the institution is trying to discharge from Saturday without having electricity in his home to support oxygen and food for gastric tube you need to continue living. His daughter Nilka Fontánez appeared desperate at the government's Emergency Operations Center asking for help but was told they are no longer accepting patients on the scene.

"No information," he cried frustrated.

The dead are in hospital morgues that are full of capacity and in remote places where the government has not arrived, and in many cases relatives are unaware of the deaths. The Demographic Register certifies the deaths so that the corpses can be removed by the funeral homes, many of which are also not operating due to lack of resources and fuel. It just began to certify some of those dead on Monday, as acknowledged in an interview by Health Secretary Rafael Rodríguez Mercado.

Héctor Pesquera, Secretary of Public Security, told the CPI that the names of those killed by the hurricane will not be provided because of the lack of communication there are people who are still unaware of the whereabouts of their relatives. Since the hurricane, many people are coming daily to the radio stations so that the announcers speak in the air the names of relatives who have not yet been able to communicate in a desperate attempt to get them.

Within a week of María's move, the Government of Puerto Rico tries with great difficulty to supply basic fuel services, roads and communications and reports daily to the world of the progress of these efforts through its press conferences at the Operations Center of Emergency (COE), which it established in San Juan. There is no dispute about the fact that those killed because of the disaster are many more than the 16 or 19 who have offered as official figures. 

Sources of the CPI in half a dozen hospitals reported that these bodies are accumulated in the morgues of 69 hospitals in Puerto Rico, 70% of which is inoperative. Most of the hospital morgues from which information was obtained, which include Hospital centers Doctor's Center in Bayamón and Santurce, Hospital Pavia de Santurce, Manatí Medical Center, Dr. Pila in Ponce, Medical Center of Rio Piedras, the Mayagüez Medical Center and the HIMA hospitals of Caguas and Bayamón, are full of capacity. These hospitals are among the 18 that are partially operational.

In addition, this media learned that the Institute of Forensic Sciences was also full of corpses and that allegedly 25 of these were victims of the hurricane. On Tuesday ICP reported that it had increased its body storage capacity with a van that was delivered to them by the federal DMORT program.

It is unknown what is happening to the deceased who are in the morgues of the 51 hospitals that have had to close their doors, with which it has been impossible to communicate.

Secretary Rodríguez Mercado acknowledged that hospital morgues were full, including that of the Mayagüez Medical Center. As he explained, the accumulated corpses could not be removed from the morgues by the funeral homes until the deaths could be certified by the staff of the Demographic Registry.

He also acknowledged that the deaths related to the hurricane are many more than those officially documented to date. He said he was able to document seven additional deaths "at 19" at the three hospitals he visited on that day in the western area, in his first communication with the region. That same afternoon Governor Ricardo Rossello said that the official death toll from the hurricane was still at 16.

To date, Rodríguez did not know the state of the situation in the hospitals of Ponce because the region remained completely incommunicado, but it planned to arrive at that city on Tuesday to hear the matter. On Wednesday, the CPI learned from the mayor of Ponce, María "Mayita" Meléndez, that the San Cristóbal hospitals are operating in that town, which San Lucas Hospital is operating.

"They are finding dead, people who have buried. Related to the hurricane (we have) 19 dead, reported by the governor, but also (people) have made mass graves. We were informed that people have buried their relatives because they are in places that have not yet been reached, "the Secretary told the visibly affected CPI.

The picture is not encouraging. Hospitals that closed their doors during the week that lasted the emergency have over 4,000 beds, and when the Secretary was asked about what happened to these patients, where they were transferred, he responded with a sincere "I do not know". [more]

Son muchos más los muertos de María

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