In the wake of a study that revealed thousands of hurricane-related deaths in Puerto Rico, Connecticut's senior senator is calling for action.
Harvard University recently found that nearly 5,000 people died in the territory as a result of Hurricane Maria last fall.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal said the report goes against the Trump Administration's claims that only 64 people were killed.
Harvard itself called the administration's official toll a "substantial underestimate."
However, at least one independent expert on biostatistics from the University of Texas told the Associated Press that the estimate could be off by thousands. Prof. Donald Berry questioned the study's methods.
Still, Wednesday, Blumenthal met with Puerto Rican leaders in New Haven, along with families who have loved ones on the island who are still struggling.
“For me, it's not just the number. My grandma could have been one of those 4,600 people. It took me 3 months before I was able to talk to my own grandmother," said Jason Ortiz, of CT's Puerto Rican Agenda.
The category 4 storm struck in Sept. 2017 and caused an estimated $100 billion in damage.
Researchers said the main cause of death was a lack of medical treatment.
“People who needed equipment to breath couldn’t use it because of lack of power. People who needed water to take medicine, couldn’t find it because the water was undrinkable, people who needed access to hospitals, couldn’t get there because of lack of transportation," Blumenthal said on Wednesday.
Connecticut’s Puerto Rican population is roughly a quarter million, but that saw an increase as thousands fleeing the island following Maria, reunited with family in CT.
The Senator said infrastructure, along with the power grid, has been an issue there for years. He said it’s one the U.S. has failed to fix, with Hurricane Maria only making matters worse.
However, he and others said that’s no excuse for what they’re calling a lack of response.
“Where my family is from, just got electricity, parts of it, just got electricity 2 weeks ago. Its 7 months down the road, for them to just get running water and electricity is absurd," said advocate Eva Bermudez Zimmerman.
“Would the United States of America tolerate this lack of electricity, drinkable water, communication if it had been Texas or Tennessee or Connecticut? I don’t think so," Blumenthal said.
He's also calling for a Congressional hearing on the study's findings, saying someone needs to be held accountable. He argues the government didn't respond in a timely manner and that power outages and lack of water is still a problem in some areas.
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