WASHINGTON – A research letter published on Thursday in the Journal of the American Medical Association places the death toll in the wake of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year at 1,130, well over the official figure of 64.
“When the area is flooded and without power, that’s not a safe environment for a grandmother on dialysis,” said lead author Alexis Raul Santos, assistant professor of human development and family studies at Penn State University. “That’s not a safe environment for someone who has an asthma attack and may need therapy.”
Researchers compared the number of mortal victims over the three-month period following the Sept. 20, 2017 hurricane with past mortality rates and arrived at a new figure of 1,130 excess deaths.
“Essentially, that’s what we’re trying to address,” Santos said. “Not just the people who drowned or died in landslides, but also the people who died because they didn’t have access to their basic needs.”
To illustrate, he added that as many as 459 people died in September, while the number of deaths were 564 in October and 115 in December, with January marking the return to normal rates.
Maria caused economic losses estimated at $90 billion, making the phenomenon the third most expensive hurricane to hit the US and its commonwealth since 1900, after Harvey, which affected Texas in 2017, and Katrina, which hit New Orleans in 2005.
The Puerto Rican government has ordered an investigation independent from the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University in Washington, and is still collecting data, which is expected to be published by the end of summer.
The figure stipulated by Santos’s research approaches a study published by Harvard University in May, which put the number of deaths at 4,645.