Puerto Rico hurricane death toll 70 times higher than official government estimate, says study
Nearly 5,000 people died in Puerto Rico due to Hurricane Maria, more than 70 times more than the official government death toll, according to a new study from The New England Journal of Medicine.
The study, released Tuesday, calls the official government estimate a “substantial underestimate” while saying that an adjusted statistic could point to as many as 5,740 more deaths than the official estimate.
The death toll according to Puerto Rico’s government is 64.
“Our results indicate that the official death count of 64 is a substantial underestimate of the true burden of mortality after Hurricane Maria,” the researchers wrote.
The study randomly selected 3,299 households in Puerto Rico and asked about all deaths and their causes of death from when Hurricane Maria made landfall on Sept. 20 to the final day of December 2017.
The study found that the mortality rate increased by 62 percent in the final months of 2017 when compared to the same time period in 2016. In total, the researchers calculated that 4,645 more people died in the final months of 2017 than in the same time frame a year prior.
The researchers noted that this number was likely lower than the actual number because of “survivor bias” and gave an adjusted estimate of 5,740 based on the fact that they could not count individuals who lived alone and died in the aftermath of the storm.
“These numbers will serve as an important independent comparison to official statistics from death-registry data, which are currently being re-evaluated, and underscore the inattention of the U.S. government to the frail infrastructure of Puerto Rico,” the research team wrote.
President Trump received heavy criticism for his administration’s response to the devastating hurricane, with critics saying the administration lacked the urgency of the response to hurricanes Harvey and Irma when those storms hit the mainland U.S.
Many on the island were left without power and running water for weeks or months following Maria’s destruction.
In December, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló (D) ordered a review and recount of the death toll, after a New York Times analysis concluded that more than 1,000 people had died as a result of Hurricane Maria.
“Every life is more than a number, and every death must have a name and vital information attached to it, as well as an accurate accounting of the facts related to their passing,” Rosselló said.
Carlos Mercader, executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, released a statement saying that the government looks forward to analyzing the study.
“As the world knows, the magnitude of this tragic disaster caused by Hurricane Maria resulted in many fatalities,” Mercader said. “We have always expected the number to be higher than what was previously reported. That is why we commissioned The George Washington University to carry out a thorough study on the number of fatalities caused by Hurricane Maria which will be released soon. Both studies will help us better prepare for future natural disasters and prevent lives from being lost.”
–Updated at 12:02 p.m.