Hurricane Maria Caused 2975 Deaths In Puerto Rico, Independent Study Estimates

Boston Globe via Getty Images FILE

The official death toll on Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria, the most powerful storm to strike the Caribbean island in almost a century, was raised on Tuesday from just 64 to nearly 3,000, based on a study ordered by the governor of the USA territory.

Maria devastated the island in September 2017, knocking out the entire electrical grid.

"We are hopeful that the government will accept this as an official death toll", said Lynn Goldman, the dean of the Milken Institute.

The study tracked excess deaths related to Hurricane Maria from September 2017 to February 2018, and found the toll was 22 percent higher than the number of deaths that would have been expected during that period in an average year, without such a deadly a hurricane.

"We still don't know when deaths came back to baseline", Goldman said.

"I'm giving an order to update the official number of deaths to 2975", governor Ricardo Rossello said.

The Trump administration said Tuesday that it would continue to support efforts from Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló to ensure "full accountability" and "transparency" surrounding the death toll caused by Hurricane Maria.

The finding is nearly twice the government's previous estimate, included in a recent report to Congress, that said there were 1,427 more deaths in the three months after the storm than the average for the same period over the previous four years.

It could have political implications, as Donald Trump had marvelled over the small number of fatalities compared with "a real catastrophe like Katrina" and was criticised for responding half-heartedly to the disaster.

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Puerto Rico stopped publicly sharing its data on hurricane deaths in December 2017.

"These numbers are only the latest to underscore that the federal response to the hurricanes was disastrously inadequate and, as a result, thousands of our fellow American citizens lost their lives", she said in a statement.

The researchers counted the deaths over a longer period because of how long people were without power.

The study also found the government only had plans in place to deal with a Category 1 storm, and Maria was Category 4 with 154mph winds. It's fairly striking that you have so many households without electricity for so long.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement that victims of last year's hurricane, which was estimated this week to have killed almost 3,000 people on the US territory, "deserve no less" than the government's full support. "That's unusual in the USA after a disaster".

The government has not commented on findings of Tuesday's report, which is based on an analysis of death certificates and other mortality data for six months from September 2017 through February 2018.

Puerto Rico is still recovering from the damage caused by Hurricane Maria.

The new report, though, takes into account an 8 percent drop in the US territory's population after the storm as thousands of survivors left quickly for the mainland.

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