The results of a much-anticipated study commissioned by the government of Puerto Rico reveal an estimated 2,975 people died in the six months following Hurricane Maria — a far cry from the official death count of 64 — and also showed that the elderly and poor were most affected.
The Associated Press reported the study results Tuesday.
Researchers with The Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University said the official death count from the Category 4 storm that hit on Sept. 20 was low in part because physicians were not trained on how to certify deaths after a disaster.
There was a 22 percent overall increase in the number of deaths from September 2017 to February 2018 compared to previous years in the same time period, Lynn Goldman, dean of the institute, told reporters.
Goldman said the researchers are “hopeful that the government will accept this as an official death toll”.
According to the study, mortality rates on the island had been decreasingly slowly since 2010, but following the hurricane, death rates shot upward.
About 40 percent of Puerto Rico’s 78 municipalities saw a significantly higher number of deaths in the six months after the storm compared with the previous two years, researchers said. These municipalities were located mostly in the island’s northeast and southwest regions.
The researchers also noted that physicians told them they were not made aware of federal guidelines for documenting disaster-related deaths by Puerto Rican officials.
“Others expressed reluctance to relate deaths to hurricanes due to concern about the subjectivity of this determination and about liability,” the report stated.