Puerto Rico governor raises Hurricane Maria death toll to 2,975

Minnie Murray
August 31, 2018

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - Hurricane Maria killed far more people in Puerto Rico than initially thought, accounting for an estimated 2,975 deaths on the island from September 2017 through February 2018, according to a new analysis.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in September 2017, fixing and replacing the island's bridges is a critical element to rebuild Puerto Rico's economy, Acrow said.

But a report by researchers from George Washington University says Maria led to 2,975 deaths in the six months following the storm.

Some media and academic studies estimated the death toll at more than 1,000, and a government report to Congress conceded that there may have been 1,400 more deaths in Puerto Rico after the storm than the previous year.

Dean of the Milken Institute School, Lynn Goldman, said: "We are hopeful that the government will accept this as an official death toll".

Additional reporting from Newsy affiliate CNN.

Puerto Rico needs to conduct after-action reviews and use those, along with the results of the study, to create a new crisis and emergency risk communication plan, one that is integrated with government agency and municipal plans, has community and stakeholder involvement, and is aligned with the possibility of catastrophic disasters.

Households went for an average of 84 days without electricity, 64 days without water, and 41 days without cellular telephone coverage after the storm.

The study noted that mortality in Puerto Rico had been slowly decreasing since 2010, but spiked after the hurricane.

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

The report found that "lack of communication, well established guidelines and lack of training for physicians on how to certify deaths in disasters, resulted in a limited number of deaths being identified as hurricane related".

Governor Ricardo Rossello "accepted" the findings in a long-awaited commissioned independent investigation.

The finding is nearly twice the government's previous estimate, included in a recent report to Congress, that there were 1,427 more deaths in the three months after the storm than the average for the same period over the previous four years.

"Others expressed reluctance to relate deaths to hurricanes due to concern about the subjectivity of this determination and about liability", the report said. Since then, several studies have indicated the actual death toll was much higher, though researchers have arrived at a range of different figures.

It analyzed death certificates and other mortality data for six months from September 2017 through February 2018.

However, they did not share details of the methodology, saying those will be released if the study is published in a scientific journal.

In May a Harvard University-led research team estimated that 4,645 lives were lost from Maria on Puerto Rico. The report did highlight the damage to Puerto Rico's infrastructure and public health, and was accompanied by a request for $139 billion in aid. That does not include indirect deaths of the sort the George Washington researchers counted in Puerto Rico. Residents here say they've been disappointed with the federal response following Hurricane Maria.

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