Nearly 3,000 deaths in Puerto Rico linked to Maria

Posted August 31, 2018

Puerto Rico's government initially confirmed only 64 deaths from Maria.

But a rigorous new study - the result of which may be the closest thing to a consensus we get - found that the answer is 2,975 people, a number that dwarfs the previous official death toll, and makes Maria the second-deadliest hurricane in American history.

"Others expressed reluctance to relate deaths to hurricanes due to concern about the subjectivity of this determination and about liability", the report stated. "Certain groups ― those in lower income areas and the elderly ― faced the highest risk", said Carlos Santos-Burgoa, the study's principal investigator, in a statement.

An estimated 2,975 excess deaths related to Hurricane Maria from September 2017 to February 2018, a number that is 22 percent higher than the number of deaths that would have been expected during that period in a year without the storm.

Cars driving through a flooded road in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, on September 2017 (above) and (below) an aerial view of the Roman Baldorioty de Castro highway six months after the passing of Hurricane Maria.

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"Every death is a horror, but if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina and you look at the tremendous hundreds and hundreds of people that died and what happened here with a storm that was just totally overbearing, no one has ever seen anything like that", Trump said during a visit to the USA territory in October 2017.

It was unclear whether the island's government would adopt the researchers' estimate as its official toll.

The U.S. federal government has been heavily criticized for its response to the storm and the island's recovery efforts.

"We never anticipated a scenario of zero communication, zero energy, zero highway access", Gov. Ricardo Rossello told reporters. Shortly after the storm, when the official death toll stood at 16, President Donald Trump marveled over the small loss of life compared to that of "a real catastrophe like Katrina".

"On June 13, the Government of Puerto Rico revealed that there were 1,427 more deaths in the four months after the hurricanes than normal (based on the previous four years), and it will update the official count after a George Washington University study is completed". In November, a team of demographers at Pennsylvania State University estimated the death count was 1,085.

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That figure was always risible - particularly when you consider that the 150 miles per hour (241 kmh) winds caused around $90bn worth of damage and left households for, on average, 84 days without electricity; 64 days without water and 41 days without cellular telephone coverage.

For the study, the researchers reviewed mortality data from July 2010 to February 2018.

Almost a year on from the hurricane, Puerto Ricans are still struggling and more than 300,000 people have fled the island for the mainland.

But here's something that may cause some confusion-why have the numbers on Maria's death toll varied so widely?

Researchers also said that the heightened risk of death continued beyond the five months that researchers studied.

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Rossello pledged to carry out the recommendations, though there are questions about Puerto Rico's ability to do so.