Puerto Ricans Create Powerful Impromptu Memorial For Hurricane Maria Victims

A report this week put the death toll at 70 times higher than government figures.

In response to reports that thousands have been left out of the official death toll after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Ricans created their own impromptu memorial this weekend. Beginning Friday, citizens lined up pairs of shoes outside the island's capital building as a representation of the 4,645 lives that a Harvard University study released Tuesday estimated were lost as a result of the storm last September. As of publication, the government's official tally remains at 64. 

More than 400 pairs of shoes were placed outside the government buildings in San Juan, according to NPR. Along the perimeter of the memorial, Puerto Ricans held signs labeling the impact Hurricane Maria had on the island as "genocide." 

"The government doesn't even know how to count the dead," read the sign of one protestor near the memorial site, NPR reports. 

The Harvard Puerto Rico report is one of several expected to be released in the next month. The survey conducted with 3,299 randomly selected households found that the effects of the storm were much deadlier than the storm itself. It is estimated that most of the deaths can be attributed to an interruption of medical care which includes a lack of access to medications, medical equipment that require electricity and medical facilities. 

In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, both Puerto Rico's and the federal government have faced much criticism over the way in which disaster relief programs were executed as well as the lack of official recognition of the scale of the devastation after the storm. CNN reported Friday that 11,000 Puerto Ricans - who are also U.S. citizens - continue to live without power eight months after the hurricane made landfall. 

The official start of the 2018 hurricane season was Friday. 

Cover image via REUTERS/Alvin Baez.

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