UTUADO, Puerto Rico—Seven of the 34 deaths caused by Hurricane Maria were preventable, according to the government’s official count released Wednesday.
A detailed list of the deaths reviewed by The Daily Beast shows seven deaths related to Maria were due to lack of oxygen and other medical-related care. The list also includes two deaths by suicides in the municipalities of Rincón and Vega Alta. Nineteen people were directly killed by the storm, according to Gov. Ricardo Rossello.
More than two week after Maria destroyed Puerto Rico, only 8 percent of the island has power. Especially troubling is the fact that the government has not been able to provide power to most hospitals. Just this week, hundreds of patients from a hospital in Humacao were rushed to the USNS Comfort as it arrived to the shores of Puerto Rico because their power plant collapsed, Gov. Ricardo Rossello said.
The death toll climbed from 16 on Tuesday, when President Donald Trump used it to downplay the severity of the damage in Puerto Rico during a visit to the island.
"What is your death count as of this moment? Seventeen? Sixteen people certified... 16 people versus in the thousands," Trump said in reference to Hurricane Maria that killed 1,833 people in New Orleans in 2005.
Gov. Rossello’s legal adviser said in a local radio interview that he expects the figure to rise. "It is very likely that the number of deaths will continue to rise as we reach communities that are still difficult to reach by land," Orona said.
Jaime Pla, president of the Puerto Rico Hospital Association told The Daily Beast that the island's death toll is has not been updated frequently because of the lack of communication.
With roughly 40 percent of the cell phone communications working, Pla says he and his team have to personally show up to the 30 hospitals that are currently working across the island to have an accurate body count.
"It could be a lot more than 34, but these are indirect deaths and we've just started doing the research because hospitals are not reachable", Pla said anticipating that the number of deaths Maria has caused on the island will be updated, "if the gasoline and weather conditions allow us."
The regional director of the Puerto Rican Demographic Department reportedly said 100 death certificates have been expedited for review in Mayaguez, west of San Juan.
The same situation is facing Villalba, a town in the central region of Puerto Rico that have reported four deaths caused by respiratory failure that were waiting to be certified as they could be linked indirectly with Maria.
The federal government is sending 10 morgue-containers to add 360 additional spaces for bodies to the 295 slots available at the island's forensic department, according to Puerto Rico's Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI).
“We’re finding dead people, people who have been buried, [people] have made common graves,”Health Secretary Rafael Rodríguez-Mercado told CPI. “We’ve been told people have buried their family members because they’re in places that have yet to be reached.”
In Utuado, the smell of death overpowered the aroma of coffee.
A landslide caused by Maria buried alive three elderly, bedridden sisters in their home.
"The only sister that made it alive screamed for help, but since the storm was still strong, nobody could help," said neighbor Julio Roman.
"I tried to entered the house and rescue them but the dirt was so much it piled nearly to the ceiling, and we couldn't hear none of the sisters," Roman told The Daily Beast.
Deaths like these also lead Roman to believe the count will be much higher.
"It took federal and local authorities more than a week to remove the bodies of the sisters, imagine how are the people living in other parts of the town that have no road access."