Harvard Study Shows Government Underestimated Death Toll In Puerto Rico By Over 4,600 People


A new study from Harvard University shows that the U.S. government's figures on the death toll in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria was vastly underestimated, off by thousands of deaths.

The government's estimate of the number of deaths still sits at 64.

Hurricane Maria Death Toll In Puerto Rico

In a new study published in the journal The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, along with researchers from the Carlos Albizu University in Puerto Rico and the University of Colorado School of Medicine, found that the death toll was underestimated by 4,645 deaths.

These deaths occurred in the three-month period after Hurricane Maria struck the island of Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017. The disaster caused around $90 billion worth of damages. Medical services were disrupted, leaving people without access to important utilities and communication for weeks.

The researchers came up with the figure by surveying 3,299 random households in Puerto Rico. The survey asked about infrastructure damage, displacement, and deaths in the aftermath. Results showed that there were 14.3 deaths per 1,000 people from September 20 to December 31, 2017.

Scientists compared these numbers with the mortality rate from the same time in 2016. The results showed the staggering difference from the estimated number by the government.

Desperate Period In Puerto Rico

During this same time, the researchers had startling discoveries about the state of the island following the hurricane. They found that the average household went 41 days without cell phone service, 68 days without water, and 84 days without electricity. Results showed that more than 30 percent of households couldn't get medical care, had trouble accessing medications, and couldn't power respiratory equipment.

In the aftermath of the hurricane, President Donald Trump visited Puerto Rico to check on the recovery efforts. In October 2017, Trump held a press conference with Puerto Rican leaders. The announced death toll at the time was 16. During the press conference, he said that the situation in Puerto Rico wasn't as bad as the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina which was a "real catastrophe."

Trump added that relief efforts for Puerto Rico were throwing off the budget and that the government was spending a lot of money in Puerto Rico.

A new hurricane season is approaching and Puerto Rico still hasn't recovered from the devastation of Hurricane Maria. When the Army Corps of Engineers left in the middle of May more than 13,000 people were still without power.

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