Hundreds of shoes form memorial in Puerto Rico after Maria death toll spikes

 



Puerto Rico residents began leaving pairs of shoes outside the island’s Capitol building in San Juan on Friday after learning this week that the death toll from last year’s Hurricane Maria might have been 70 times higher than the official government tally of 64.

The shoes, arranged in neat rows, formed an impromptu memorial for the dead as people held protest signs nearby.

The island’s government is facing criticism from residents angry at the lack of transparency surrounding the official death toll, which remains murky. Nearly six months after a New York Times report suggested 1,052 deaths may have been linked to the hurricane, a research team led by Harvard University put the figure even higher, at 4,645.

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Hundreds of shoes form memorial in Puerto Rico
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Hundreds of shoes form memorial in Puerto Rico
Shoes are displayed at the Capitol to pay tribute to Hurricane Maria's victims after a research team led by Harvard University estimated that 4,645 people lost their lives, a number not confirmed by the government, in San Juan, Puerto Rico June 1, 2018. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
Shoes are displayed at the Capitol to pay tribute to Hurricane Maria's victims after a research team led by Harvard University estimated that 4,645 people lost their lives, a number not confirmed by the government, in San Juan, Puerto Rico June 1, 2018. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
A couple takes pictures of shoes displayed at the Capitol to pay tribute to Hurricane Maria's victims after a research team led by Harvard University estimated that 4,645 people lost their lives, a number not confirmed by the government, in San Juan, Puerto Rico June 1, 2018. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
People stand among hundreds of pairs of shoes displayed at the Capitol to pay tribute to Hurricane Maria's victims after a research team led by Harvard University estimated that 4,645 people lost their lives, a number not confirmed by the government, in San Juan, Puerto Rico June 1, 2018. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
People look at hundreds of pairs of shoes displayed at the Capitol to pay tribute to Hurricane Maria's victims after a research team led by Harvard University estimated that 4,645 people lost their lives, a number not confirmed by the government, in San Juan, Puerto Rico June 1, 2018. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
A Puerto Rican flag is seen on a pair of shoes as hundreds of pairs of shoes displayed at the Capitol to pay tribute to Hurricane Maria's victims after a research team led by Harvard University estimated that 4,645 people lost their lives, a number not confirmed by the government, in San Juan, Puerto Rico June 1, 2018. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
Votive candles are seen over pairs of shoes displayed at the Capitol to pay tribute to Hurricane Maria's victims after a research team led by Harvard University estimated that 4,645 people lost their lives, a number not confirmed by the government, in San Juan, Puerto Rico June 1, 2018. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
A Puerto Rican flag is seen on a pair of shoes as hundreds of pairs of shoes displayed at the Capitol to pay tribute to Hurricane Maria's victims after a research team led by Harvard University estimated that 4,645 people lost their lives, a number not confirmed by the government, in San Juan, Puerto Rico June 1, 2018. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
A woman stands among hundreds of pairs of shoes displayed at the Capitol to pay tribute to Hurricane Maria's victims after a research team led by Harvard University estimated that 4,645 people lost their lives, a number not confirmed by the government, in San Juan, Puerto Rico June 1, 2018. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
A woman walks among hundreds of pairs of shoes displayed at the Capitol to pay tribute to Hurricane Maria's victims after a research team led by Harvard University estimated that 4,645 people lost their lives, a number not confirmed by the government, in San Juan, Puerto Rico June 1, 2018. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
View of displayed shoes in memory of those killed by Hurricane Maria in front of the Puerto Rican Capitol, in San Juan, on June 1, 2018. - Hurricane Maria, which pummeled Puerto Rico in September 2017, is likely responsible for the deaths of more than 4,600 people, some 70 times more than official estimates, US researchers said Tuesday. (Photo by Ricardo ARDUENGO / AFP) (Photo credit should read RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images)
A man looks at hundreds of shoes displayed in memory of those killed by Hurricane Maria in front of the Puerto Rican Capitol, in San Juan on June 1, 2018. - Hurricane Maria, which pummeled Puerto Rico in September 2017, is likely responsible for the deaths of more than 4,600 people, some 70 times more than official estimates, US researchers said Tuesday. (Photo by Ricardo ARDUENGO / AFP) (Photo credit should read RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images)
A demonstrator places a candle next to empty pairs of shoes displayed outside the Capital building during a protest against the government's reporting of the death toll from Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Friday, June 1, 2018. Hurricane Maria probably killed about 5,000 people in Puerto Rico last year even though the official count remains at just 64, according to a Harvard University study released Tuesday. Photographer: Xavier Garcia/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Candles sit inside pairs of shoes displayed outside the Capitol building during a protest against the government's reporting of the death toll from Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Friday, June 1, 2018. Hurricane Maria probably killed about 5,000 people in Puerto Rico last year even though the official count remains at just 64, according to a Harvard University study released Tuesday. Photographer: Xavier Garcia/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A plant sits inside an empty pair of shoes outside the Capitol building during a protest against the government's reporting of the death toll from Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Friday, June 1, 2018. Hurricane Maria probably killed about 5,000 people in Puerto Rico last year even though the official count remains at just 64, according to a Harvard University study released Tuesday. Photographer: Xavier Garcia/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A demonstrator places a candle next to empty pairs of shoes displayed outside the Capital building during a protest against the government's reporting of the death toll from Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Friday, June 1, 2018. Hurricane Maria probably killed about 5,000 people in Puerto Rico last year even though the official count remains at just 64, according to a Harvard University study released Tuesday. Photographer: Xavier Garcia/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A woman prays in front of hundreds of shoes that were displayed in memory of those killed by Hurricane Maria in front of the Puerto Rican Capitol, in San Juan on June 1, 2018. - Hurricane Maria, which pummeled Puerto Rico in September 2017, is likely responsible for the deaths of more than 4,600 people, some 70 times more than official estimates, US researchers said Tuesday. (Photo by Ricardo ARDUENGO / AFP) (Photo credit should read RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman prays in front of hundreds of shoes that were displayed in memory of those killed by Hurricane Maria in front of the Puerto Rican Capitol, in San Juan, on June 1, 2018. - Hurricane Maria, which pummeled Puerto Rico in September 2017, is likely responsible for the deaths of more than 4,600 people, some 70 times more than official estimates, US researchers said Tuesday. (Photo by Ricardo ARDUENGO / AFP) (Photo credit should read RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman holds a placard that reads in English '4645 deaths and my dad was one them' in front of hundreds of shoes displayed in memory of those killed by Hurricane Maria in front of the Puerto Rican Capitol, in San Juan, on June 1, 2018. - Hurricane Maria, which pummeled Puerto Rico in September 2017, is likely responsible for the deaths of more than 4,600 people, some 70 times more than official estimates, US researchers said Tuesday. (Photo by Ricardo ARDUENGO / AFP) (Photo credit should read RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman holds a placard that reads in English 'genocide' in front of hundreds of shoes that were displayed in memory of those killed by Hurricane Maria in front of the Puerto Rican Capitol, in San Juan on June 1, 2018. - Hurricane Maria, which pummeled Puerto Rico in September 2017, is likely responsible for the deaths of more than 4,600 people, some 70 times more than official estimates, US researchers said Tuesday. (Photo by Ricardo ARDUENGO / AFP) (Photo credit should read RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images)
View of displayed shoes in memory of those killed by Hurricane Maria in front of the Puerto Rican Capitol, in San Juan, on June 1, 2018. - Hurricane Maria, which pummeled Puerto Rico in September 2017, is likely responsible for the deaths of more than 4,600 people, some 70 times more than official estimates, US researchers said Tuesday. (Photo by Ricardo ARDUENGO / AFP) (Photo credit should read RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images)
View of displayed shoes in memory of those killed by Hurricane Maria in front of the Puerto Rican Capitol, in San Juan, on June 1, 2018. - Hurricane Maria, which pummeled Puerto Rico in September 2017, is likely responsible for the deaths of more than 4,600 people, some 70 times more than official estimates, US researchers said Tuesday. (Photo by Ricardo ARDUENGO / AFP) (Photo credit should read RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman lights up a candle inside a pair of shoes that were among hundreds displayed in memory of those killed by Hurricane Maria in front of the Puerto Rican Capitol, in San Juan on June 1, 2018. - Hurricane Maria, which pummeled Puerto Rico in September 2017, is likely responsible for the deaths of more than 4,600 people, some 70 times more than official estimates, US researchers said Tuesday. (Photo by Ricardo ARDUENGO / AFP) (Photo credit should read RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman and a kid take pictures of shoes displayed in memory of those killed by Hurricane Maria in front of the Puerto Rican Capitol, in San Juan on June 1, 2018. - Hurricane Maria, which pummeled Puerto Rico in September 2017, is likely responsible for the deaths of more than 4,600 people, some 70 times more than official estimates, US researchers said Tuesday. (Photo by Ricardo ARDUENGO / AFP) (Photo credit should read RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman lights up a candle inside a pair of shoes that were among hundreds displayed in memory of those killed by Hurricane Maria in front of the Puerto Rican Capitol, in San Juan on June 1, 2018. - Hurricane Maria, which pummeled Puerto Rico in September 2017, is likely responsible for the deaths of more than 4,600 people, some 70 times more than official estimates, US researchers said Tuesday. (Photo by Ricardo ARDUENGO / AFP) (Photo credit should read RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman holds a placard that reads in English 'genocide' in front of hundreds of shoes that were displayed in memory of those killed by Hurricane Maria in front of the Puerto Rican Capitol, in San Juan on June 1, 2018. - Hurricane Maria, which pummeled Puerto Rico in September 2017, is likely responsible for the deaths of more than 4,600 people, some 70 times more than official estimates, US researchers said Tuesday. (Photo by Ricardo ARDUENGO / AFP) (Photo credit should read RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images)
Demonstrators stand near empty pairs of shoes displayed outside the Capitol building during a protest against the government's reporting of the death toll from Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Friday, June 1, 2018. Hurricane Maria probably killed about 5,000 people in Puerto Rico last year even though the official count remains at just 64, according to a Harvard University study released Tuesday. Photographer: Xavier Garcia/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Empty pairs of shoes sit outside the Capitol building during a protest against the government's reporting of the death toll from Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Friday, June 1, 2018. Hurricane Maria probably killed about 5,000 people in Puerto Rico last year even though the official count remains at just 64, according to a Harvard University study released Tuesday. Photographer: Xavier Garcia/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A demonstrator holds a sign that reads 'Genocide' near empty pairs of shoes displayed outside the Capitol building during a protest against the government's reporting of the death toll from Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Friday, June 1, 2018. Hurricane Maria probably killed about 5,000 people in Puerto Rico last year even though the official count remains at just 64, according to a Harvard University study released Tuesday. Photographer: Xavier Garcia/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A candle rests inside a pair of shoes displayed outside the Capitol building during a protest against the government's reporting of the death toll from Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Friday, June 1, 2018. Hurricane Maria probably killed about 5,000 people in Puerto Rico last year even though the official count remains at just 64, according to a Harvard University study released Tuesday. Photographer: Xavier Garcia/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A sign reads '4645 Souls' near pairs of empty shoes displayed outside the Capitol building during a protest against the government's reporting of the death toll from Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Friday, June 1, 2018. Hurricane Maria probably killed about 5,000 people in Puerto Rico last year even though the official count remains at just 64, according to a Harvard University study released Tuesday. Photographer: Xavier Garcia/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A sign reads '4645' near empty shoes outside the Capitol building in this aerial photograph taken during a protest against the government's reporting of the death toll from Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Friday, June 1, 2018. Hurricane Maria probably killed about 5,000 people in Puerto Rico last year even though the official count remains at just 64, according to a Harvard University study released Tuesday. Photographer: Xavier Garcia/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A demonstrator places an empty pair of shoes on display outside the Capitol building during a protest against the government's reporting of the death toll from Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Friday, June 1, 2018. Hurricane Maria probably killed about 5,000 people in Puerto Rico last year even though the official count remains at just 64, according to a Harvard University study released Tuesday. Photographer: Xavier Garcia/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Empty pairs of baby shoes hang on display outside the Capitol building during a protest against the government's reporting of the death toll from Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Friday, June 1, 2018. Hurricane Maria probably killed about 5,000 people in Puerto Rico last year even though the official count remains at just 64, according to a Harvard University study released Tuesday. Photographer: Xavier Garcia/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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Late Friday, the Puerto Rico Department of Health released data that showed a sharp year-over-year increase in fatalities in the months after the hurricane hit. There were at least 1,400 additional deaths from September through the end of December 2017 compared to the same time period in 2016.

“The government doesn’t even know how to count the dead,” read one man’s sign, according to NPR

“4,645 dead and my daddy was one,” read another.

One woman held a sign simply reading “genocide.” 

Maria’s devastation was not limited to drownings and debris. The storm knocked out power to nearly the entire island, with repair efforts stretching several months, and it cut off access to clean drinking water for more than half the population. Researchers say many of the deaths resulted from inability to access medical care, particularly affecting those who were elderly or sick.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said his government is still awaiting results from a study on the death toll commissioned from George Washington University.

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.
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