Minnesotans call on U.S. to ‘wake up' after Harvard study on Hurricane Maria death toll

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Hurricane Maria’s death toll has been under scrutiny for months, but Tuesday Harvard University’s latest study amplified the need for a closer look.

The study published in the New England Journal of Medicine estimates Hurricane Maria’s death count is approximately 70 times more than what the U.S. government “official count” of only 64 deaths.

“It’s the highest death count in any hurricane that we’ve had,” said Alberto Monserrate, the CEO of New Republica.

Puerto Rican Minnesotans like Alberto Monserrate say the staggering number does not surprise them. 

“I was more than anything surprised that we’re still debating this,” said Monserrate.

“My parents are fine, the island around them is crumbling,” said Javier Morillo, the president of Service Employees International Union 26 in Minnesota.

Morillo just visited Puerto Rico two weeks ago.  

“There’s the fact literally next week hurricane season begins again,” said Morillo. “That is terrifying, and those that I talked to, people brought that up a lot.”

“Is Puerto Rico prepared? No,” said Maria Isa Perez-Hedges, an advisor to El Fondo Boricua Hurricane Relief, an effort that extends financial relief to the island.

Perez-Hedges, a local artist and activist, extended aid on the island firsthand a month ago.

“Not only is there lack of power, lack of medicine, lack of food [...] shops are running, but there’s minimal opportunity for people to get work," said Perez-Hedges.

As the island still struggles to recover, the same heartbreaking thoughts linger.

“Imagine 5,000 Minnesotans dying after a storm and nobody knows,” she said.

The deaths occurred mostly because of problems with getting medicines or lack of medical care, according to the study.

“They need to be recognized, these are U.S. citizens,” said Perez-Hedges.

While one of the researchers told the Associated Press the estimate is uncertain, the discrepancy between the government's official count of 64 deaths and the study's estimate of more than 4,600 is abundantly clear.

“U.S citizens, wake up. These are your people,” said Perez-Hedges.

The government of Puerto Rico issued a statement Tuesday in response to the study saying it welcomes the research and will analyze it. 

Meanwhile, the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz, is expected in Minnesota Thursday to help celebrate Latina leadership across the country.