Puerto Rico's Hurricane Maria Death Toll Could Be "More Than 70 Times" Official Estimate

An estimated 4,645 people perished when Hurricane Maria slammed into Peurto Rico, a territory of the United States, on September 20, 2017, and in the months after, according to an academic report published Tuesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. This shocking estimate dwarfs Puerto Rico’s official death toll of 64, which the researchers called a “substantial underestimate,” mostly due to delayed or interrupted medical services.

Maria caused an estimated $90 billion in damages across the island, making it one of the most expensive hurricanes for the United States since 1900. Tens of thousands of people were displaced from their homes, seeking shelter on higher ground or in the Continental United States. Accurate estimates of deaths, injuries, illness, and displacement have been extremely difficult to evaluate in the aftermath because infrastructure and healthcare systems were severely damaged.

“These numbers will serve as an important independent comparison to official statistics from death-registry data, which are currently being reevaluated, and underscore the inattention of the U.S. government to the frail infrastructure of Puerto Rico,” said researchers.

The team of researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and other academic institutions surveyed 3,299 randomly chosen households across Puerto Rico to produce an independent estimate of death after the hurricane. Respondents were asked a series of questions about “displacement, infrastructure loss, and causes of death,” the report said. Researchers estimated deaths by comparing estimated post-hurricane mortality rate with official rates for the same period in 2016.

Of the households researchers visited, 18 deaths occurred before September 20, 2017, and 38 after the hurricane. Household members reported nearly one-third of post-hurricane deaths as being caused by delayed or prevented access to medical care, and almost 1 in 10 was attributed directly to the hurricane by respondents, explained the report.

Researchers calculated a “62 percent increase in the mortality rate from September 20 through December 31 in 2017 as compared with the same period in 2016, corresponding to an annual mortality rate of 14.3 deaths per 1000 persons and an estimated 4,645 excess deaths.” The team used measurements from the survey and applied it to the broader population to reach their estimate of 4,645 deaths. While their assessment is more than 70 times the official number, researchers said it is still likely to be conservative.

 Estimates of Excess Deaths and Reported Causes of Death.

Panel A shows a comparison of estimates of excess deaths from official reports, press (New York Times) and academic (Santos–Lozada and Howard) reports, and from our survey. Panel B shows deaths according to the month of death and the age at death as reported in our survey, categorized according to the cause of death reported by the household member. Two persons who died of similar causes at the same age are represented by dots that are superimposed in December; thus, the 37 points shown represent 38 deaths after the hurricane. (Source: New England Journal of Medicine)

The survey found a strong positive correlation between remoteness on the island and the length of time without essential services. On average, houses went 84 days without electricity, 68 days without water, and 41 days without cellular service after the hurricane and until late December. There was also a significant disruption in medical services, the survey noted. About 14 percent of households surveyed said they were not able to access daily medications, while nearly 10 percent said they needed medical equipment that required electricity. Other problems included the destruction of medical facilities and missing doctors.

Number of Days without Basic Services and Disruption of Medical Services.

Panel A shows the distribution of the number of days that households reported being without water, cellular telephone coverage, and electricity between September 20 and December 31, 2017, according to remoteness category (from least remote [category 1] to most remote [category 8]). Remoteness was defined according to the travel time to the nearest city with a population of at least 50,000 persons. Box plots show the medians (dark bars), with boxes spanning the interquartile range; vertical lines indicate 1.25 times the interquartile range, and points denote outliers. Here, the number of days is the lower boundary of the total, since the number of days was reported as being within a particular time window. Panel B shows the percentage of all households reporting at least 1 day of disrupted medical services according to factors causing the disruption. These factors were not necessarily related to reported deaths, and households could report more than one issue. See Table S3 in the Supplementary Appendix for data regarding disruption across households in various remoteness categories. (Source: New England Journal of Medicine)

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello ordered a review of the official death count in December, which could indicate a change in the total. This would be bad news for President Donald Trump, who has said the low number of deaths shows the federal government worked well to counter the aftermath of the storm when compared to a real catastrophe like (Hurricane) Katrina.”

Domingo Marqués, an associate professor of clinical psychology at Carlos Albizu University in Puerto Rico, who was one of the researchers, said, “the difference is that we went out and we had boots on the ground and we did the interviews,”

“Statistically, it’s like having interviewed the whole island,” he added.

Carlos Mercader, executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, said, “as the world knows, the magnitude of this tragic disaster caused by Hurricane Maria resulted in many fatalities.”

Mercader indicates that he welcomes the Harvard-led research and will study its contents. “We have always expected the number to be higher than what was previously reported,” he added.

As the United States prepares for the next hurricane season, “it will be critical to review how disaster-related deaths will be counted, in order to mobilize an appropriate response operation and account for the fate of those affected,” the report concluded.

If Puerto Rican officials readjust the figures, it could spell bad news for the Trump administration ahead of the midterms this fall, as the liberal media has been highly critical on his approach to counter the aftermath of the natural disaster.


ZENDOG ACP Wed, 05/30/2018 - 12:59 Permalink

And they have not done shit to prepare for the next one coming their way.

They sit and whine and cry for more aid from the US....their political leaders badmouth every handout.....

the fuckers need to get off their lazy ass and prep.....stop fucking breeding more lowlifes.

Too much free shit......

In reply to by ACP

Handful of Dust Arnold Wed, 05/30/2018 - 13:22 Permalink

As is usually the case, far left leadership has destroyed the once beautiful and prosperous island of PR:


Violence, drugs and murders are skyrocketing, too. Puerto Rico is reeling from decades of profligate spending and irresponsible leadership implemented by left-leaning leaders, some of which have fostered ties to radical Latin American actors such as Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez.


I guess they're "feeling the Bern," PR style.

In reply to by Arnold

directaction ZENDOG Wed, 05/30/2018 - 13:11 Permalink

I agree. The Puerto Rican’s begging and whining and laziness is flat-out disgusting.

Compare this Cuba. When severe storms strike they jump to Immediately assist each other, asking help from no one, and afterward begin preparing for the next storm. No whining, no begging, no laziness and no criticism of anyone. 

In reply to by ZENDOG

Toxicosis ACP Wed, 05/30/2018 - 13:41 Permalink

As opposed to a non-academic report.  Please go back to your regularly scheduled pot smoking.

You're right though every single scientist is either a moron or on the take.  Thankfully we can count on lay people like you to uncover the real data and obviously make the most appropriate assessment.

In reply to by ACP

Toxicosis buzzsaw99 Wed, 05/30/2018 - 13:45 Permalink

The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Puerto Rico was worth 103.10 billion US dollars in 2015. The GDP value of Puerto Rico represents 0.17 percent of the world economy. GDP in Puerto Rico averaged 38.51 USD Billion from 1960 until 2015, reaching an all time high of 103.14 USD Billion in 2013 and a record low of 1.69 USD Billion in 1960.


But then again you must be right.

In reply to by buzzsaw99

Pure Evil I am Groot Wed, 05/30/2018 - 16:41 Permalink

Don't blame Bush for that one.

At the time of Katrina states had to request Federal disaster aid due to the 10th Amendment and state sovereignty. 

The Governor at the time, Democrat, refused to request the aid to make Bush look racist in the treatment of blacks.

The Governor finally requested FEMA aid and supplies finally arrived.

Due to these political shenanigans Congress passed a law allowing the Federal Government to intervene in the events of national disasters.

Once again thank the Democraps for turning a disaster into catastrophe.

In reply to by I am Groot

RopeADope Wed, 05/30/2018 - 12:54 Permalink

Looks like Trump did to the Hurricane Maria death toll numbers what Obama did to the civilians killed by drones numbers. I did say they were eerily similar in their narcissism.

I am Groot RopeADope Wed, 05/30/2018 - 13:43 Permalink

You forgot to mention Bill Clinton. How he was the savior of the blacks and minorities. How much the Democrats care for minorities came out of his mouth everyday. Then he went on to make history by locking more of them up since the times of slavery with the three strikes law. Minorities were commonly getting prison time for minor offenses like stealing licorice from a store or a bicycle. And not just 1 or 2 years. They were getting 20 years sentences under mandatory minimum sentencing requirements.

In reply to by RopeADope