Quantifying the effect of natural disasters on society is critical for recovery of public health services and infrastructure. The death toll can be difficult to assess in the aftermath of a major disaster. In September 2017, Hurricane Maria caused massive infrastructural damage to Puerto Rico, but its effect on mortality remains contentious. The official death count is 64.
Using a representative, stratified sample, we surveyed 3299 randomly chosen households across Puerto Rico to produce an independent estimate of all-cause mortality after the hurricane. Respondents were asked about displacement, infrastructure loss, and causes of death. We calculated excess deaths by comparing our estimated post-hurricane mortality rate with official rates for the same period in 2016.
From the survey data, we estimated a mortality rate of 14.3 deaths (95% confidence interval [CI], 9.8 to 18.9) per 1000 persons from September 20 through December 31, 2017. This rate yielded a total of 4645 excess deaths during this period (95% CI, 793 to 8498), equivalent to a 62% increase in the mortality rate as compared with the same period in 2016. However, this number is likely to be an underestimate because of survivor bias. The mortality rate remained high through the end of December 2017, and one third of the deaths were attributed to delayed or interrupted health care. Hurricane-related migration was substantial.
This household-based survey suggests that the number of excess deaths related to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico is more than 70 times the official estimate. (Funded by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and others.)
Harvard University researchers say last year’s death toll from Hurricane Maria is dramatically larger than reported. Published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the study estimates more than 4,600 people died in Puerto Rico. The official government death toll is 64. David Begnaud reports from San Juan.
https://democracynow.org – A stunning new study by researchers at Harvard has revealed the death toll in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria may be 70 times higher than official count of 64. The new research, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, says the death toll is at least 4,645—and perhaps as many as 5,740. President Trump has so far not responded to the new study. But in October, during a visit to Puerto Rico, Trump boasted about the low official death count. With a death toll of at least 4,645, Hurricane Maria would become the second-deadliest hurricane in U.S. history—behind only the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 which killed as many as 12,000 people in Texas.
The Harvard study found that “interruption of medical care was the primary cause of sustained high mortality rates in the months after the hurricane, a finding consistent with the widely reported disruption of health systems. Health care disruption is now a growing contributor to both morbidity and mortality in natural disasters.” For more we go to San Juan, Puerto Rico where we speak with Omaya Sosa, co-founder of Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism, where she is a reporter. Her latest article is headlined, “Puerto Rico Government Did Not Prevent Most Hurricane María-Related Deaths.”
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