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Calculating The Hurricane Maria Aftermath


Now we're going to turn to someone whose reporting has put pressure on the government to get a more accurate count of hurricane-related fatalities - Carla Minet. she is the executive director of the Center for Investigative Journalism here in Puerto Rico.

Carla, thanks so much for joining us.

CARLA MINET: Hi, everyone.

MARTIN: So you've sued the Puerto Rican government for more information on deaths that occurred after Hurricane Maria. What questions are you trying to get answered?

MINET: We are trying to get the cause of death database updated. We are trying to get death certificates. We are trying to get some notebooks from the regional offices of the demographic registry. So basically, it's the kind of information that would allow us to understand what really happened, where people die, what was the profile of this group of people that died on those days and, you know, in the following weeks and months. So we are trying just to understand what happened.

MARTIN: Why did you have to sue to get that information?

MINET: Well, in Puerto Rico, there is a constitutional right to access to information - to public information. But (laughter) some government employees don't understand that. It's not enforced regularly. So when this kind of requests come, and some government officials think that it is sensitive information, the regular, immediate answer is to, you know, say, this is not available. So we have to go to court in order for a judge to tell them (laughter) that this is public and this should be released

MARTIN: So - and forgive me if this seems obvious - but I wanted to ask, is the goal here a number, an accurate number? Or is it to correctly identify each individual who died who otherwise probably would not have if it had not been for these circumstances?

Like, is the - and why - forgive me if this seems obvious, but why is that so important? I mean, beyond - there's a psychic need to know. But a lot of the people that we've spoken to say, well, of course I know that that number doesn't make sense because I personally know X number of people. I personally know my neighbor. I personally know this family member, so I know that this happened. So why is it - do you think it's important for there to be a sort of a public acknowledgement of these facts?

MINET: Well, you know, I feel like the number is not the most important thing. We know it's going to be difficult to approach the real number. But if we can approximate and have a clear methodology and confident methodology validated by experts, that can give us the sense that they analyze what the numbers say. Because we can say 4,000, but if we don't understand what's behind that number, what were the most common causes of death, what is the age range of most of the people. Were they at hospitals, or were they at elderly homes, or were they at home? Were they rural?

If we are not able to understand what happened, we cannot move forward and prepare for our next season. So it is important to know the number because that will say what was the pattern, where did the government - didn't do its work, and how should individuals, communities prepare themselves for a new season.

MARTIN: That's Carla Minet. She is the executive director of the Center for Investigative Journalism here in Puerto Rico.

Carla, thanks so much for speaking with us.

MINET: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.