Quantcast
Health
A man walks past a house laying in flood water in Catano town, in Juana Matos, Puerto Rico, on Sept. 21, 2017. HECTOR RETAMAL / AFP / Getty Images

Official Hurricane Maria Death Toll Raised to Nearly 3,000

Puerto Rico will revise the official Hurricane Maria death toll from 64 to nearly 3,000 following the release of a report by the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health (GW SPH) commissioned by the Puerto Rican government, CNN reported Tuesday.


The study used data from 2010 to 2017 to predict mortality on Puerto Rico if the hurricane had not occurred and compared that figure to actual deaths on the island from September 2017 to February 2018, concluding there were 2,975 excess deaths during that period. That estimate took into account migration away from the island following the September 2017 storm.

"Even though it is an estimate, we are officially changing, or we are putting an official number to the death toll," Puerto Rican Gove. Ricardo Rossello told reporters Tuesday, according to CNN. "We will take the 2,975 number as the official estimate for the excess deaths as a product of Maria."

The new official estimate comes as various studies have suggested that many more people died in the devastating storm than previous government numbers indicated. The new official number is below the around 5,000 deaths estimated by a Harvard study in May and higher than the 1,139 estimated by a research letter in the Journal of the American Medical Association earlier this month.

"I do think this study helps to validate that sense that many people had that there were just too many deaths," GW SPH Dean Lynn Goldman told CNN.

She said the research team would conduct another phase of the study to determine which of the excess deaths were in fact caused by the hurricane.

The numbers refocus attention on the Trump administration's lackluster response to the storm.

"These numbers are only the latest to underscore that the federal response to the hurricanes was disastrously inadequate and, as a result, thousands of our fellow American citizens lost their lives," New York Democratic Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez said in a statement reported by The Guardian.

The study also adds more evidence against President Donald Trump's claim, when he visited Puerto Rico shortly after the hurricane, that the death toll was low.

"If you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina, and you look at the tremendous hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died ... 16 people versus in the thousands. You can be very proud of all of your people," he said at the time, according to ABC News.

In fact, the official Maria death toll now stands above the Hurricane Katrina death toll of more than 1,800, as estimated by the National Hurricane Center.

The researchers covered a six-month period because so many homes were without power for an incredibly long time. The Guardian reported. Lack of power increased exposure to extreme heat without fans or air conditioning and forced people to make more physical effort. "It's fairly striking that you have so many households without electricity for so long. That's unusual in the US after a disaster," Goldman said.

The report found that the death rate was higher for all age groups and social spheres during the period studied, but that people living in towns with lower socioeconomic development had a risk of death 45 percent higher. Older men were also more likely to experience higher mortality rates.

The Puerto Rican government also commissioned GW SPH to assess how well it implemented the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for reporting mortality in disasters and how well it communicated crisis and mortality information.

The report concluded that the Puerto Rican government's lack of communication about best practices for death certificate reporting before the 2017 hurricane season, as well as a lack of awareness among doctors about how to report deaths after disasters, decreased the number of deaths attributed to the hurricane on official certificates.

GW SPH also conducted interviews with Puerto Rican government staffers, and found that the Department of Public Safety (DPS) and the Central Communications Office in the Governor's Office did not have written communication plans for emergencies.

Interviewees also told researchers that there were not enough communications staff before the hurricane started and that an increase in staff after the hurricane was inefficiently managed.

Further, there were also no plans in place to use alternative communication channels once power cut out following the storm.

Researcher Carlos Santos-Burgoa said in a statement reported by ABC News that the report could provide a template for improvements.

"We hope this report and its recommendations will help build the island's resilience and pave the way toward a plan that will protect all sectors of society in times of natural disasters," he said.

Rosello made promises to that effect, announcing the creation of a "9/20" commission for determining how Puerto Rico could improve its disaster response, The Guardian reported.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Animals
Two baby Loggerhead turtles. U.S. Air Force / Senior Airman Veronica McMahon

A Record 589 Sea Turtles Killed By Florida's Toxic Red Tide

Florida's longest red tide in more than a decade has killed scores of the state's most iconic marine animals.

The current outbreak, which began in October 2017 off southwest Florida, has been tied to a record 589 sea turtle deaths and 213 manatee deaths, the Herald-Tribune reported, citing figures from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Lake Baikal. W0zny / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA 3.0

Wildlife Under Siege at the World’s Oldest Lake

By Marlene Cimons

Lake Baikal is the world's oldest and deepest lake. It's at least 20 million years old, and roughly a mile deep at its lowest point. The Siberian lake contains holds more water than all the North American Great Lakes combined, what amounts to more than one-fifth of all the water found in lakes, swamps and rivers. It was formed by the shifting of tectonic plates, which created a valley that filled with water. That shift continues today at a rate of around 1 to 2 centimeters year, meaning the world's biggest lake is only getting bigger.

Keep reading... Show less
Insights/Opinion
Oil rig operating next to a walk and bike way in the Signal Hill area of Los Angeles. Sarah Craig / Faces of Fracking / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

U.S. Oil and Gas Industry Is Drilling Us Towards Climate Disaster

By Kelly Trout

As the 116th Congress commences, in the wake of dire reports from climate scientists, the debate over U.S. climate policies has taken a welcome turn towards bold solutions. Spurred on by grassroots pressure from Indigenous communities, the youth-led Sunrise Movement and communities from coast to coast fighting fossil fuel infrastructure, Capitol Hill is alive once again with policy proposals that edge towards the scale required to address the crisis we're in.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Bumblebee on goldenrod. Jim Hudgins / USFWS

Half of Michigan's Bumblebee Species in Decline, One Extinct

Honeybees get a lot of attention for their worrisome decline, but many species of bumblebees—which are key pollinators—are also in trouble.

In Michigan, half of its bumblebee species have declined by 50 percent or more, Michigan Radio reported.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
Bound bales of crushed plastic bottles and containers sit stacked ready to be recycled at a recycling center in the Netherlands. Jasper Juinen / Bloomberg / Getty Images

Toward a Circular Economy: Tackling the Plastics Recycling Problem

By Margaret Sobkowicz

Why has the world continued to increase consumption of plastic materials when at the same time, environmental and human health concerns over their use have grown?

Keep reading... Show less
Oceans
Bleached coral at the Great Barrier Reef. The Ocean Agency / XL Catlin Seaview Survey / Richard Vevers

2018 Was the Hottest Year Ever Recorded for Our Oceans

The year 2018 was the hottest year for the planet's oceans ever since record-keeping began in 1958, according to a worrisome new study from international scientists.

The findings, published Wednesday in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, noted that the five warmest years for our oceans were the last five years—2018, 2017, 2015, 2016 and 2014 (in order of decreasing ocean heat content).

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
EPA Acting Administrator Wheeler / EPA

Senate Shouldn’t Put Wheeler at the Wheel of the EPA

By Ana Unruh Cohen

As the longest government shut down in history drags on, and the experts protecting our air and water remain off the job, the Senate is barreling forward to put Andrew Wheeler at the wheel of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). He is unfit for this public trust.

In his seven-month tenure as the acting administrator at EPA, Wheeler's relentlessly pushed to advance the pro-polluter agenda launched by Scott Pruitt, the worst administrator in the agency's storied 48-year history. Wheeler may lack Pruitt's scandals, but he's no improvement.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
Westend61 / Getty Images

Top 20 Healthy Salad Toppings

By Lizzie Streit, MS, RDN, LD

Salads are typically made by combining lettuce or mixed greens with an assortment of toppings and a dressing.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!