Published: Wed, May 30, 2018
Worldwide | By Isabel Fisher

Hurricane Maria 'killed 4,600 in Puerto Rico'

Hurricane Maria, which pummeled Puerto Rico in September 2017, is likely responsible for the deaths of more than 4,600 people, some 70 times higher than official estimates, U.S. researchers said Tuesday.

A Harvard research team surveyed almost 3,300 randomly chosen Puerto Rican households and extrapolated their findings to estimate that the island likely saw 4,645 "excess deaths" between the storm's September 20, 2017, landfall and the end of the calendar year.

Ever since the island's official death count was released, Puerto Ricans have argued it did not accurately reflect how many of their friends, relatives, and fellow citizens had died.

In the aftermath of the storm, Puerto Rico commissioned George Washington University to conduct an independent study into the death toll, the results of which are due soon.

And on Tuesday, a Harvard University study estimated 4,645 people died as a result of the Hurricane.

"Approximately one-third of post-hurricane deaths were reported by household members as being caused by delayed or prevented access to medical care", said the report.

The surveys were taken from January to February 2018, a time when, researchers noted, "many survey respondents were still without water and electricity".

Officials in Puerto Rico say that 64 people lost their lives after Hurricane Maria slammed into the island in September.

Researchers addressed these problems by comparing the number of deaths in 2017 with the number of deaths in the same time period in 2016.

Even this is believed to be a "substantial underestimate" of the actual death count, said the report, noting it could be above 5,700.

The process is made even more hard in Puerto Rico because all disaster-related deaths must be verified by the Institute of Forensic Sciences, which entails either transporting all the bodies to San Juan or waiting for a medical examiner to travel out and check the corpse.

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