The bill is led by Senator Kamala Harris (California) and Puerto Rican congresswoman Nydia Velázquez (New York) (horizontal-x3)
The bill is led by Senator Kamala Harris (California) and Puerto Rican congresswoman Nydia Velázquez (New York). (AP)

Washington - After the experience in Puerto Rico, US House and Senate Democrats have introduced a bill to establish federal standard to calculate fatalities following a natural disaster.

The bill is led by Senator Kamala Harris (California) and Puerto Rican congresswoman Nydia Velázquez (New York), and another one is expected to be submitted by members of the Congress Hispanic Caucus in favor of an independent commission, such as the one created after September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Democrats reaffirmed “the accuracy of the death toll has a direct impact on an area’s recovery”.

 “We cannot allow our government’s failed response in Puerto Rico to ever happen again,” said Harris, who stands out from a group of Democrats to make a run for the White House.

The bill, called "COUNT" (Counting), would authorize $ 2 million to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to request a study from the National Academy of Medicine on how to best assess mortality during and in the aftermath of a natural disaster, currently left up to state governments.

" Tragically, in Puerto Rico, the official death toll has been vastly undercounted, driving a narrative that has enabled the Trump Administration to brag about its response to Maria, while our fellow citizens were dying. This is shameful,” said Congresswoman Velázquez.

The White House warned that the death toll is Ricardo Rosselló government´s responsibility, which Andy Surabian, former adviser to President Trump, accentuated in an opinion article ( " The thing the Democrats failed to acknowledge was the role Governor Ricardo Rosselló played in the aftermath of the Hurricane and the vast miscalculation of the death toll," Surabian said, referring to a CNN´s an with the governor when he said that those responsible for obscuring the truth about the death toll will be “hell to pay”, but he is “inherently responsible for this himself".

A study conducted by Harvard University revealed that the death toll related to Hurricane Maria can be between 793 and 8,498, with an average of 4,645.

Given the pressure this study created, the government of Puerto Rico finally disclosed that between September and December 2017, 1,397 more people died than during the same period in 2016.

However, the Puerto Rican government maintains in 64 the official death toll, while they wait for a study requested to the George Washingto University Milken Institute School of Public Health, which should be ready this summer. But the university indicated that it may take another nine months to conduct interviews with victims relatives in Puerto Rico.

Last week, Velázquez headed a Hispanic Caucus announcement intended to introduce a bill that will create an independent commission to investigate deaths in Puerto Rico caused by the hurricane and the federal response.

In the Senate, the bill is backed by Democrats Richard Blumenthal (Connecticut), Bill Nelson (Florida), Kirsten Gillibrand (New York), Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts), Ed Markey (Massachusetts), Bob Menéndez (New Jersey), Tom Carper (Delaware) and Dianne Feinstein (California).

Senator Menéndez said that the bill is "the right step towards having national standard on death toll counting after a natural disaster".

In the House, the bill is backed by Democrats Brendan Boyle (Pennsylvania), Raúl Grijalva (Arizona), José Serrano (New York) and Bennie Thompson (Mississippi).

"After Hurricane Maria, it is clear that we must review the way we calculate mortality as result of natural disasters. Doing so will help families to find some sense of closure (of the tragedy) and to request the necessary benefits. It will also ensure that we can devote resources to the specific risk factors that raised the number of fatalities after Hurricane Maria, such as power grid failures, floods and road closures. This will allow us to better protect vulnerable populations," said Serrano.

Grijalva, Democrat spokesperson on the Committee on Natural Resources, said that "we can not expect a competent response to future disasters, in Puerto Rico or elsewhere, if the administration does not even recognize the real cost in human lives".

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