Puerto Rico officially increases death toll from hurricane Maria to 2,975
Puerto Rico has officially raised the official death toll from Hurricane Maria from 64 people to 2,975 people. This dramatic increase in death toll has been announced almost one year on from the hurricane.
The death toll was officially changed for the first time following research by George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health.
Earlier this year a report in the New England Journal highlighted that the death toll could be much higher than official statistics said.
Ricardo Rosselló, Governor of Puerto Rico commented:
"We never anticipated a scenario of zero communication, zero energy, zero highway access,”
“I think the lesson is to anticipate the worst.”
The hurricane caused an island-wide electricity outage and telecommunications failures that hampered relief efforts.
The research by George Washington University estimates that the number of excess deaths caused by the hurricane ranges between 2,658 and 3,290. To further assess the death toll researchers will need to examine death certificates and interview family and friends of deceased.
One year on from the hurricane thousands of Puerto Ricans are still struggling and over 300,000 people have fled the island for the mainland.
The research also identified how certain populations are far more vulnerable to natural disasters, including those who live below the poverty lines, elderly and people with chronic illnesses.
Lynn Goldman, Dean of the Milken institute added:
“A lesson from this is that efforts for assistance and recovery need to focus as much as possible on lower-income areas, on people who are older, who are more vulnerable”
The researchers have partly explained the vast disparity between the initial death toll and the updated toll as doctors were not fully trained on how to certify deaths after a disaster. The researchers counted deaths for 6 months following the hurricane due to effects of power outages.
The power outages caused by the hurricane caused a number of problems that exacerbated health problems and the death toll as people were forced to exert themselves or were exposed to intense heat without a means to cool themselves.
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Image credit: Carlos Giusti