Puerto Rico to Review Suspiciously Low Hurricane Death Count
Puerto Rico's official death toll from Hurricane Maria is 64. That number, as many media organizations have reported, is suspiciously low. Recent reviews of mortality data from Puerto Rico's Center for Investigative Journalism and the New York Times estimate that the death toll is actually more than 1,000.
Following those reports, as well as earlier investigations from CNN, Vox and Buzzfeed, Gov. Ricardo A. Rosselló has ordered the island's Demographic Registry and Public Safety Department to scrutinize every death on the island since the devastating Sept. 4 storm.
In a statement released Monday, Gov. Rosselló acknowledged that "the number of hurricane-related deaths ... may be higher than the official count certified to date."
His administration "needs to investigative if the increase of the deaths is related directly or indirectly with Hurricane María," Rosselló said.
This is a sharp reversal of the Puerto Rican government's previous stance, which has staunchly defended the accuracy of the death count.
"A legal process of certification by a coroner or a doctor is necessary, and every family deserves that the case of their loved ones be looked at independently and thoroughly," Rosselló continued in his statement. "We also want the most accurate count and understanding of how people lost their lives to fully account for the impact of these storms, and to identify ways in which we can prevent fatalities in advance of future disasters."
Rosselló has also called for the creation of a panel of experts "to look into our current certification processes so that we can improve them going forward."
However, he warned that the government "cannot base any official fatality related to the hurricane count on statistical analysis."
"This is about more than numbers, these are lives: real people, leaving behind loved ones and families," he said. "The Government needs to work with sensibility and certainty in the process of certifying a death related to the hurricane."
According to the New York Times, "Reviewing the circumstances surrounding each death will require interviewing family members and doctors who signed death certificates to find out if, for example, the heart attack listed as the cause might have been brought on by stress related to the hurricane or might have been fatal because an ambulance could not get through debris-blocked streets to help in time."
In October, President Donald Trump was criticized for saying that Puerto Rico should be "very proud" of the death toll from Hurricane Maria in comparison to the "thousands" of people who died in Hurricane Katrina.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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