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Harvard study estimates nearly 5,000 Puerto Ricans died due to Hurricane Maria

01 June, 2018, 18:31 | Author: Lucille Rivera
  • New study places Hurricane Maria death toll at more than 4,600 and 70 times higher than official count

The authors of the study eventually reached a final estimate of 5,740 direct and indirect Maria deaths, saying numerous victims who died lived alone, and therefore could not be part of the survey. The question for United States authorities about Puerto Rico, an American territory, is how many of those deaths could have been prevented with a better emergency response?

The researchers estimated that most victims of the storm died between September 20 and December 31, 2017, as a direct or indirect result of Puerto Rico's worst natural disaster in 90 years.

"Our estimate of 4645 excess deaths from September 20 through December 31, 2017, is likely to be conservative since subsequent adjustments for survivor bias and household-size distributions increase this estimate to more than 5000".

According to the study, the death rate increased 62 percent in the last months of past year compared to the same period in 2016. Because family members may have misremembered details, researchers warned that the final number is likely higher.

An aerial view shows the flooded neighbourhood of Juana Matos in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Catano, Puerto Rico, Sept. 22, 2017.

"We have always expected the number to be higher than what was previously reported", Mercader said in a statement.

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Hurricane season officially starts on Friday. Citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the study says deaths can be attributed to the storm "if they are caused by forces related to the event, such as flying debris, or if they are caused by unsafe or unhealthy conditions resulting in injury, illness, or loss of necessary medical services".

If the analysis is correct, it means that for every hurricane-related death that's now on the books, another 70 fatalities in the USA territory have gone uncounted. Hurricane Katrina's number is 1,836. That's more than twice the Katrina death toll. In light of the Harvard report, a White House spokesperson said the people of Puerto Rico deserve nothing less than transparency and accountability. It was the strongest storm to hit the island in 89 years.

He added that the island's authorities had also commissioned George Washington University to study the number of deaths and these findings would be released soon, reports the BBC.

In addition to deaths, the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine also revealed other telling details about the storm's impact.

In hospitals, services suffered from lack of electricity and an exodus of physicians from the island left a shortage of medical staff to treat the population. "This requires that bodies be brought to San Juan or that a medical examiner travel to the local municipality to verify the death, often delaying the issuance of death certificates". That said, the new statistics are broadly consistent with research based on death records by The New York Times in a recent academic study, Irizarry notes.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott's press secretary, Ashley Cook, said the governor remains "committed to helping Puerto Rico rebuild its infrastructure and making sure they have the support they need to avoid this kind of tragedy in the future".

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