Hurricane Maria caused 2975 deaths in Puerto Rico, new study estimates

31 August, 2018, 23:31 | Author: Sue Mclaughlin
  • A Puerto Rican flag is seen on a pair of shoes as hundreds of pairs of shoes displayed at the US Capitol to pay tribute to Hurricane Maria's victims

Researchers with The Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University said the official death count from the Category 4 storm that hit on September 20 was low in part because physicians were not trained on how to certify deaths after a disaster.

The governor of Puerto Rico has accepted the findings of a commissioned study that found the death toll from Hurricane Maria past year was more than 46 times the official government tally.

"We will take the 2,975 number as the official estimate for the excess deaths as a product of the hurricane". He said financial instability and a fragile infrastructure made Puerto Rico especially vulnerable to such calamities.

He said the data sources used by George Washington also are better, "but its accuracy is not as great as they advertise".

Hurricane Maria was the most powerful storm to strike the Caribbean island in nearly a century.

Today, Rosselló said at a news conference that the government accepted the GWU number as an updated death toll, "keeping in mind that it's still an estimate".

On Tuesday, Governor Ricardo Rosselló officially raised the hurricane's death toll to match the report's findings, making Maria the deadliest USA hurricane since a 1900 storm that hit Texas.

Over this same period, older male Puerto Ricans had a risk of death that was 35 percent higher than expected and that elevated risk continued past the study observation period. Researchers said the next stage of assessing the death toll includes examining death certificates and interviewing family and friends of the deceased to determine if those deaths should be attributed to the storm.

The George Washington study followed a similar methodology as earlier estimates, comparing deaths after the storm to previous years.

Hurricane Maria caused nearly 3,000 deaths in Puerto Rico, new study estimates
Nearly 3,000 deaths in Puerto Rico linked to Hurricane Maria, study finds

The government of Puerto Rico stopped publicly sharing its data on hurricane deaths in December 2017.

"That's unusual in the United States after a disaster".

Among the problems researchers identified: a lack of training for doctors about reporting on hurricane death counts, poor communication between central and local governments; and a lack of proper planning by both the Puerto Rican and federal governments for a disaster as large as Maria.

"Others expressed reluctance to relate deaths to hurricanes due to concern about the subjectivity of this determination and about liability", the report said.

The latest study says that from the period ranging from September to December 2017 alone, there were an excess of 2,098 deaths, and 2,975 from September 2017 to February 2018.

Researchers said they adjusted for various factors that could account for fluctuations in mortality, most notably the displacement of some 241,000 residents who fled the island in the immediate aftermath of the storm.

The study also found the government only had plans in place to deal with a Category 1 storm, and Maria was Category 4 with 154mph winds.

The researchers also said the public health system needs to be strengthened, though Goldman said they don't know yet whether those weaknesses contributed to storm-related deaths. "If enacted, the recommendations of this report could help save lives in Puerto Rico and beyond".

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