Around 1,500 Puerto Ricans have died in the 10 months since their island was wrecked by Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rican official Héctor Ferrer told reporters Wednesday.
Ferrer currently serves as president of Puerto Rico’s Popular Democratic Party, which advocates for the island to remain a commonwealth of the U.S. rather than adopt statehood or complete independence. Ferrer is running to replace Ricardo Rosselló as governor of the island.
Hurricane Maria, a category 4 storm, struck Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, 2017, two weeks after the island was clipped by category 5 Hurricane Irma. Maria’s direct hit left millions living in the U.S. territory without power or access to clean water.
“Being conservative, around 1,500 people died because of the hurricane,” Ferrer told reporters.
Maria’s official death toll remains at 64, though Rosselló and multiple studies have contradicted the count and placed the number much higher. (RELATED: Puerto Rico Releases Partial Records Of Death Toll Following Hurricane Maria)
The Puerto Rican government and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are partly to blame for the effects of the hurricane. Neither institution was prepared to deal with the scope of the damage Maria caused, Ferrer said.
Neither would the response had been any better if Puerto Rico was a U.S. state rather than a territory.
“What happened in Puerto Rico after the hurricane didn’t happen because we weren’t a state or because we were a commonwealth,” Ferrer said. “It happened because of the lack of efficiency, the lack of preparation of both the Puerto Rican government and the federal government, and that’s the truth.”
“It took almost two weeks for the government of Puerto Rico to understand what was going on after the hurricane, for [Rosselló] to understand what was going on,” Ferrer continued. “That has nothing to do with statehood. … That’s just bad leadership and a bad governor.”
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