Hurricane Maria kills almost 3,000 in Puerto Rico

Boston Globe via Getty Images FILE

That figure was then compared to the number of deaths reported from September 2017, when the hurricane hit, to February 2018, when the island still struggled with blackouts and a shortages of essential supplies on the road to recovery.

"The lessons learned from this report and subsequent studies will help not just Puerto Rico, but other regions in the US and around the world that face the ongoing threat of hurricanes and other natural disasters", said Lynn R. Goldman, MD, MS, MPH, Michael and Lori Milken Dean of the GW Milken Institute SPH and a co-author of the report.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - An estimated 2,975 people died in the six months after Hurricane Maria as a result of the storm, with the elderly and impoverished most affected, according to a long-awaited independent study ordered by the US territory's government that was released Tuesday.

"Even though it is an estimate, we are officially changing, we are putting an official number to the death toll", he said.

"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 an interview in Spanish with El Nuevo Día responding to the report, Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Roselló acknowledged his government's failings in establishing an effective protocol for measuring the death toll.

The study analyzed hurricane-caused deaths from September 2017 through the end of February 2018.

Hurricane Maria now stands as one of the deadliest natural disasters in USA history - claiming even more lives than Hurricane Katrina - after a new report said the death toll in Puerto Rico was more than 46 times higher than the initial government tally. In November, a team of demographers at Pennsylvania State University estimated the death count was 1,085. That led to an undercounting of deaths, the researchers suggested.

The revised toll from Hurricane Maria is now almost identical to the number of people who died from the 9/11 attacks - 2,977, including some who died years later from illnesses caused by toxic dust exposure.

Households went for an average of 84 days without electricity, 64 days without water, and 41 days without cellular telephone coverage after the storm. There is no national standard on how to count disaster-related deaths.

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

The first phase of the study cost $305,000. The study found that those in low-income areas, and elderly men, were at greatest risk of dying.

But a Harvard study released in May put the toll at 4,645, with most deaths blamed on delayed medical care. They also took into account an 8 per cent drop in Puerto Rico's population in the six months after the storm, when tens of thousands fled because of the damage.

"We did not cherry-pick, I can promise you", Goldman said.

The researchers made several recommendations, including more emergency planning and government training for doctors on filling out death certificates.

The study also said that those from poorer backgrounds in Puerto Rico were 45 percent more likely to have been killed in the aftermath of the hurricane. The island is trying to restructure a portion of its more than $70 billion public debt amid a 12-year recession.

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