The Death Toll In Puerto Rico May Be Over 5,000 Higher Than The Official Government Estimate

The Death Toll In Puerto Rico May Be Over 5,000 Higher Than The Official Government Estimate

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The New England Journal of Medicine published a new Harvard study showing that Puerto Rico’s actual death toll related to Hurricane Maria and complicated by Hurricane Irma is actually 70 times the official estimate. While the government recorded just 64 official deaths, in actuality the number is closer to 5,000.

64 versus 5,000 +

Although the official mortality data wasn’t immediately released, behind the scenes the bodies were piling up.

“[…] officials and physicians acknowledged privately that there were probably many, many more deaths, and bodies piling up in morgues, across the island.

Health-care disruption for the elderly and loss of utility services for the chronically ill significantly impacted the total.

The study surveyed 3299 randomly chosen households across Puerto Rico and found a 62% increase in the mortality rate comparing the time period following the hurricane in September 2017 to the end of the year with the same time period in 2016.

The method uses representative community-based sampling that doesn’t rely merely on death-certificate data.

What’s more, the study suggests the total number may be considerably higher due in part to “survivor bias.” Adjusting the statistic, the number becomes 5,740 more deaths than the official estimate.

Using the standard set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of deaths resulting from the storms includes not only those directly killed by flying debris of floodwaters but also those indirectly killed due to the unhealthy conditions that result when storms wipe out infrastructure and remove access to medical services.

The study notes that Maria was the third costliest tropical cyclone in the United States since 1900, racking up $90 billion in damages.

Of course, the number of actual deaths could rise even higher, considering that eight months after the disaster, there is still “persistent lack of water, a faltering power grid and a lack of essential services — all imperiling the lives of many residents, especially the infirm and those in remote areas hardest hit in September.”

The study called on doctors, patients, and the communities of Puerto Rico to develop better methods for counting the dead, since failing to do so will mean that they will be unprepared to face future disasters.

The executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, Carlos R. Mercader, said he welcomed the study and looked forward to analyzing it.


Featured image: Homes lay in ruin as seen from a U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Air and Marine Operations, Black Hawk during a flyover of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria September 23, 2017. U.S. Customs and Border Protection photo by Kris Grogan via Wikimedia Commons