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Puerto Rico Gov. Calls Protocol "Subpar" In Light Of Harvard Death Toll Study

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SAN JUAN (CBSMiami) – Harvard University researchers say last year's death toll from Hurricane Maria is dramatically larger than reported.

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, estimates more than 46 hundred people died in Puerto Rico.

The official government death toll is just 64.

Puerto Rico's Governor Ricardo Rossello, who himself is a scientist, seemed blindsided by the Harvard study.

"We want the real number to come out," Rossello said. "We had a protocol that really was subpar and we recognize it."

The protocol is for doctors to tell the government if a death was caused by Hurricane Maria, and family's have to petition the government to investigate if they disagree with a doctors opinion.

The Harvard study researchers surveyed more than 3,000 homes around the island and found the mortality rate rose 62-percent in the three months after Hurricane Maria compared to that period a year before.

Researchers concluded the final death count could be as high as 8,500.

"One third of our deaths were reported because lack of medical treatment," said Domingo Marques, Associate Professor of Psychology at Albizu University.

During his visit to Puerto Rico last October, President Trump hailed the low death toll, which at the time, was 16.

"We've saved a lot of lives," Trump said at the time. "You can be very proud of all of your people, all of our people working together."

In the light of the Harvard report, a White House spokesperson said the people of Puerto Rico deserve nothing less than transparency and accountability.

San Juan mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz has blasted Trump for being tone deaf and slow to respond.

"The negligence that allowed those lives to be lost needs to be accounted for, so it doesn't happen again," Cruz said.

When asked to evaluate her own response she said "I know I didn't get to everyone. We did the best we could, but that wasn't good enough. That wasn't good enough."

For every death that is certified by a government official as being directly caused by Hurricane Maria, family members are eligible to have the federal government help pay for funeral expenses.  The numbers matter.

It took six weeks and $50,000 dollar grant from Harvard to come up with the findings of the study.

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