Study puts Puerto Rico hurricane deaths at 4,645

Hurricane Maria killed 4,600 in Puerto Rico, 70 times official toll: study

The study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine today, concludes that "the number of excess deaths related to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico is more than 70 times the official estimate".

"The mortality rate remained high through the end of December 2017, and one third of the deaths were attributed to delayed or interrupted health care", wrote the study's authors, from Harvard, Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

When the researchers extrapolated those mortality rates to the population of Puerto Rico, they calculated that the number of hurricane-related deaths was somewhere between 793 and 8498.

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 excess deaths.

"The difference is that we went out and we had boots on the ground and we did the interviews", said Domingo Marqués, an associate professor of clinical psychology at Carlos Albizu University in Puerto Rico, who was among the report's authors.

The study noted that calculating a reliable death toll following natural disasters is hard, but that it is a crucial part of the recovery process.

"As the world knows, the magnitude of this tragic disaster caused by Hurricane Maria resulted in many fatalities".

And not a moment too soon, said Carmen Yulin Cruz, the mayor of Puerto Rico's capital city of San Juan.

The 2018 hurricane season begins June 1.

In December, the New York Times reported that actual deaths from Hurricane Maria exceeded 64 people, but put their total estimate at about 1,052.




An aerial view shows the flooded neighbourhood of Juana Matos in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Catano, Puerto Rico, Sept. 22, 2017. The team was eager to suggest that Puerto Rico's government could use their methodology at an even larger scale, and minimize the uncertainties and reduce the wide range of potential deaths to a more stable one.

As part of Harvard researchers' report, over 3,200 households were randomly visited and surveyed, which included over 9,500 people.

The Harvard study says the Puerto Rican and USA governments did not provide adequate services - including electrical power and medical assistance - after the hurricane.

The US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which oversees disaster recovery, has said it encountered unique logistical challenges on the island after the storm that make comparisons between the response to Maria and other storms problematic.

Survey-takers used criteria from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to determine if a person's death could be blamed on the hurricane.

Puerto Rico added at least two people to its official count following CNN's investigation.

During the storm itself, residents might be hit by flying debris or swept away in flash floods.

Natalio Rodriguez Lebron, 77, for example, died in Maunabo, Puerto Rico, in January. Families reported that almost 3 percent of their members had left their homes because of the hurricane.

"This is a valid way of looking at it", he said of the research from Harvard.

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