Sparta Report

We Still Don’t Know the Death Toll From Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico

It’s still not clear exactly how many Puerto Ricans died during Hurricane Maria. Initial claims were very low, but it looks like the government may be so inept they couldn’t properly conduct a count, or else they deliberately lied in the fears that a high death toll might make them look bad:

But in the eight months since the president attempted to rally Puerto Ricans with those words, one of the most perplexing challenges remains the mystery of how many of the island’s 3.4 million residents actually died as a result of the Category 4 storm.

There was a spike in the mortality rate in the months after Hurricane Maria. According to Alexis Santos, director of graduate studies in applied demography at Pennsylvania State University who has studied the daily mortality data from the Puerto Rico government, says there were approximately 1,000 more deaths on the island in the month after Maria.

In February, Governor Ricardo Rossello announced that George Washington University would lead efforts to review the death count associated with the storm. The Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University is heading an independent effort in partnership with institutions on the island.

Dr. Lynn Goldman, dean of that school, told ABC News the task of counting the deaths is an exhausting one. The team will be working with data coming in from various sources.

The Puerto Rico Department of Public Safety said in the days after the storm that any increase in the number of deaths listed as related to Hurricane Maria would happen only if a body was sent to San Juan to be examined by a medical examiner or if a medical examiner went to a town to review a body.

“I would say that the guidelines that they were following were the guidelines for an immediate scoping of the impact of a disaster. People were comparing the numbers of deaths to numbers from Hurricane Katrina. In many ways what we would consider to be the disaster phase of the episode went on for much longer in Puerto Rico,” Goldman said.

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