A study commisioned by Puerto Rico’s governor Ricardo Rosello to the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University (GWU) revealed hurricane Maria left 2,975 victims, prompting the governor to update the official death toll from 64 to the number found by the study.
The new number more than doubles the government’s interim estimate of 1,427 and is starkly different from the previous official estimate of 64.
“The official government estimate of 64 deaths from the hurricane is low primarily because the conventions used for causal attribution only allowed for classification of deaths attributable directly to the storm, e.g., those caused by structural collapse, flying debris, floods, and drownings. During our broader study, we found that many physicians were not oriented in the appropriate certification protocol. This translated into an inadequate indicator for monitoring mortality in the hurricane’s aftermath,” the report argued.
The study is based on an excess mortality estimation, which examined deaths registered between September 2017 and February 2018 and compared them using a mathematical model with the island’s historical patterns.
Unlike this year's Harvard study, which estimated nearly 5,000 deaths, the GWU study had access to data from the Demographic Registry, kept confidential until June 1. Researchers also interviewed 11 government officials and 22 community leaders.
The study found that 40 percent of the island’s municipalities experienced a significant increase in mortality rates in comparison with the past two years.
According to Carlos Santos Burgoa, the study’s lead researcher, Puerto Ricos’ vulnerable populations, especially those with less economic resources and the elderly faced the greater risk.
The study also warned that Puerto Ricos’s emergency plans were not designed for hurricanes above category 1 and there were no protocols to keep the state in contact with the communities.