George Washington University Researchers Estimate Hurricane Maria Death Toll Of 2,975 In Puerto Rico

A new study from George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health has determined Hurricane Maria killed a much larger number of people than initially reported in Puerto Rico. The original estimate was just 64 deaths, but the new study finds an estimated 2,975 deaths from September 2017 through February 2018. Elderly men and those who lived in low-income areas were at the greatest risk.

“Overall, we estimate that 40% of municipalities experienced significantly higher mortality in the study period than in the comparable period of the previous two years,” the report says.

CBS News explains how the study came to the new number.

To arrive at the 2,975 figure, the study looked at historical death patterns from 2010 to 2017 to estimate how many people would have died had Hurricane Maria not hit the island. That figure was then compared to the actual number of deaths from September 2017 through February 2018 — obtained in records provided by the Puerto Rico Vital Statistics Records division of the Puerto Rico Department of Health — to determine what the report describes as the “estimate of excess mortality due to the hurricane.”

“The official government estimate of 64 deaths from the hurricane is low primarily because the conventions used for causal attribution only allowed for classification of deaths attributable directly to the storm, e.g., those caused by structural collapse, flying debris, floods and drownings,” the report says. “During our broader study, we found that many physicians were not oriented in the appropriate certification protocol. This translated into an inadequate indicator for monitoring mortality in the hurricane’s aftermath.”

There is no way to determine the exact number of fatalities stemming from the storm and communication issues between the Puerto Rico Vital Statistics Registry which is involved in the death certification process, but it is clear the death toll is significantly larger than the number that was initially claimed.

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