Hurricane Maria Deaths in Puerto Rico Could Surpass 1,000


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 Hurricane Maria Deaths in Puerto Rico Could Surpass 1,000

Roofs damaged by Hurricane Maria remain exposed in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The island's official death toll from the storm sits at 55, but may be much higher in actuality.

New data show the death toll from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico could be much higher than what government officials are reporting to the public. More than two months after the Category 5 hurricane devastated the island, leaving millions without electricity and water, the official death toll sits at 55. However, two disaster researchers have estimated the actual count may be closer to 1,085, according to a report by Vox.

Calculating deaths after a major disaster is extremely difficult. John Mutter, a disaster researcher at Columbia University who studied the death toll after Hurricane Katrina, which totaled at least 1,800, told Vox the best way to measure a death toll is to count all the deaths since the disaster, then compare that number to the average number of deaths in the same time period from previous years. Subtract the average number from the current number to arrive at the number of casualties.

Alexis Santos, a Puerto Rican demographer at Pennsylvania State University, and Jeffrey Howard, an independent health scientist and epidemiologist used the Puerto Rico Vital Statistics System to compare historical averages for September and October from 2010 to 2016 to the number of deaths in those months of this year reported by the Puerto Rico Department of Public Safety to see if there were notable differences.

Howard and Santos found when the hurricane hit in September 2017 there were 518 more deaths than the historical average for September. For October 2017, there were 567 more deaths than the historical average. Those 1,085 deaths are likely due to Hurricane Maria.

An investigation by CNN also questioned the official death toll. The outlet surveyed 112 funeral homes — about half on the island — and identified 499 storm-related deaths from Sept. 20 to Oct 19. When San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz told CNN earlier this month she thought the toll could be 500, Héctor M. Pesquera, secretary of the Department of Public Safety responded: "The government of Puerto Rico certifies the death count based on factual information in concert with all components involved in the process. At the moment, the official death count is 55."

Even before Vox and CNN's reports, Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey of Massachusetts expressed their concern in October about the accuracy of the death toll from the hurricane.

Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló recently requested $94.4 billion from Congress in relief funds to help the island, which is still struggling to restore power and access to clean water to 100 percent of its residents.

"The issue of how many deaths there were from the devastation goes hand in hand with the attention this is going to get in Congress," Santos told Vox.

Copyright 2017 U.S. News & World Report

By: U.S. News %26 World Report

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