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Latest Estimate of Hurricane Maria Death Toll in Puerto Rico Reaches 4,600


Despite it being over a year since the tragic incident, experts are still trying to count the number of deaths caused by the devastating Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Even today, during hurricane week, the latest estimate goes up to roughly 4,600, and many of them were caused by delayed medical care.

According to the results of a new study by a group of independent researchers from multiple institutions, residents of Puerto Rico died at a staggeringly higher rate three months after the hurricane compared to the previous year.

Still Not 100% Accurate

The researchers say their estimate, published Tuesday in The New England Journal of Medicine, remains imprecise. However, they say that more definitive studies are to come, and the findings, which used methods that have not been previously applied to this disaster, are important amid widespread concerns that the government’s tally of the dead, 64, was a dramatic undercount.

Flooding, landslides, and winds swept away homes and left the vicinity with no electricity, water, and cellular service, which remained largely unrepaired for months.

Flooding, landslides, and winds swept away homes and left the vicinity with no electricity, water, and cellular service, which remained largely unrepaired for months. Other news organizations, including Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism, have also expressed their doubts of the government’s figure, finding evidence that there was an excess in the hundreds in the weeks after the hurricane.

Researchers for this latest study visited more than 3,000 residences across the island and interviewed their occupants, who reported that 38 people living in their households had died between Sept. 20, when Hurricane Maria struck, and the end of 2017. That toll, converted into a mortality rate, was extrapolated to the larger population and compared with official statistics from the same period in 2016.

According to the researcher’s calculations, because the number of households surveyed was actually pretty small in comparison to the size of the population, the true number of deaths beyond what was expected possibly could range from about 800 to over 8,000 people

The toll exceeded previous estimates, researchers said, in part because they looked at a longer time period. Around 15 percent of the interviewed people stated someone in their household was unable to get medication for at least a day after the storm.

Around 15 percent of the interviewed people stated someone in their household was unable to get medication for at least a day after the storm. Fewer than 10 percent reported closed medical facilities and 6 percent said doctors were unavailable. The study estimates about a third of the deaths were caused by a delay in medical care or the inability to obtain it.

The Government’s Answer

The government stated six months ago that all deaths that happened after Maria hit would be re-checked and that people who died either directly or indirectly from the storm and its aftermath would be added in the revised tally. The government commissioned a review by some researchers at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University. They have promised an initial report in May. But that analysis has barely begun. “They’re still acquiring data,” said Dr. Lynn R. Goldman, the school’s dean.

The study will use the territory’s vital records and information from funeral homes, the medical system and the larger public

Dr. Goldman now says she expects to deliver the initial review, which will cost $305,000, sometime this summer, with a more definitive analysis involving interviews with survivors and requiring additional funding following perhaps nine months later. She claimed she, along with her colleagues, was delayed because they had failed to anticipate the need for the university to navigate through multiple tax laws in preparing their contract with the government of Puerto Rico.

The newly released study, by contrast, was conducted for about $50,000 without the participation of the territory’s government, which the researchers said refused to provide data to them. On Tuesday, the government of Puerto Rico said it welcomed the new survey and was excited to analyze it. Carlos S. Mercader, executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, said that both the Harvard survey and the George Washington University study will help Puerto Rico “better prepare for natural disasters in the future, and hopefully prevent lives from being lost.”


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