Few believed the initial official figures that said 64 people died in Puerto Rico as a result of Hurricane Maria in September 2017, a stunningly low statistic that officials released shortly after what is considered one of the island’s worst natural disasters on record.
After many disputed the official number, Puerto Rican officials commissioned a study from George Washington University in Washington to get a more accurate number of deaths, and when its results were released on 28th August, it confirmed what many had suspected: An estimated 2,975 people lost their lives because of the natural disaster. As a result, Puerto Rico has now revised the official death toll.
The study, carried out by the university’s Milken Institute School of Public Health, said death certificates may not have reflected conditions caused by the hurricane that lead to fatalities in the days and months following the disaster.
Lack of electricity and water and a general pounding of the island-nation’s infrastructure by the storm made it difficult for hospitals and health care professionals to care for those who were struggling to recover in the aftermath of the disaster. Death certificates may not have taken into account all those factors and how the fatalities were a result of the conditions created by the hurricane. In a statement, those who conducted the study said that “lack of communication, well established guidelines and lack of training for physicians on how to certify deaths in disasters, resulted in a limited number of deaths being identified as hurricane related.”
Picture: A man shovels dirt on 21st October 2017, near a destroyed building in Utuato, Puerto Rico. (CNS photo/Bob Roller).