New US study finds Hurricane Maria deaths nears 3,000

By Umar Farooq

WASHINGTON (AA) – The death toll in Puerto Rico of Hurricane Maria from September 2017 to February 2018 is now estimated to be 2,975, according to a new report released Tuesday.

The report conducted by George Washington University's Milken Institute of Public Health, at the request of the Puerto Rican government, arrived at this number by comparing population models and trends from 2010 to 2017, and then creating a model during the seven-month period and estimating the amount of deaths there would have been if Maria did not happen.

They compared the estimate with the total amount of deaths during the period where Maria happened.

The study found individuals living in lower socioeconomic areas and men over the age of 65 were at a larger risk of death.

“The results of our epidemiological study suggest that, tragically, Hurricane Maria led to a large number of excess deaths throughout the island. Certain groups – those in lower income areas and the elderly – faced the highest risk,” Carlos Santos-Burgoa, professor of Global Health at George Washington University, said in a press release.

Researchers concluded that 40 percent of municipalities experienced significantly higher mortality during Maria than in the previous two years.

The new estimated number is much higher than the official number reported by the government, which stood at 64. Earlier this month in a report quietly sent to Congress, the commonwealth government said 1,427 more deaths than normal during the hurricane.

One point that was stressed in the report was the issue of death certificates contributing to the false number originally reported by the Puerto Rican government.

"Our study shows that physician lack of awareness of appropriate death certification practices after a natural disaster and the Government of Puerto Rico’s lack of communication about death certificate reporting prior to the 2017 hurricane season limited the count of deaths that were reported as related to Hurricane María," it said.