A Harvard study released Tuesday estimates the death toll in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria is nearly 73 times higher than the official estimate.
Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, 2017, wreaking damage on the island still recovering from another hurricane that passed over weeks before. Maria tore up infrastructure and demolished homes, cutting off supply of clean water and electricity to a vast majority of residents. Many remained in a state of isolation for weeks and months. (RELATED: Puerto Rico Hit With Another Island Wide Blackout)
Harvard researchers surveyed thousands of random households across Puerto Rico and estimated, with 95 percent confidence, at least 4,645 people died on the island from Sept. 20 through Dec. 31, 2017, for reasons related to the hurricane, according to the study published in The New England Journal of Medicine.
The estimate is likely below the actual number because of “survivor bias,” the researchers concede.
“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,” the report said. “Hurricane-related migration was substantial.” (RELATED: People Are Leaving Puerto Rico In Droves After Hurricane Maria)
The official death count from the disaster stands at just 64. Experts and researchers have been warning for months, though, the real number is much higher. (RELATED: Puerto Rico’s Death Toll Could Be 17 Times Higher Than Official Stats)
“As the world knows, the magnitude of this tragic disaster caused by Hurricane Maria resulted in many fatalities,” Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration Carlos R. Mercader said Tuesday, according to The Washington Post. “We have always expected the number to be higher than what was previously reported.”
The large discrepancy from the actual number of deaths and the official count is due to the severe amount of damage Puerto Rico sustained because of the hurricane and a lack of transparency in reporting from Puerto Rico officials. Puerto Rico was also poorly prepared to handle the scope of the disaster. Many elderly and ill were left stranded, and without treatment and care, many died, the report said.
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