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New Study Reports Shocking Death Toll from Hurricane Maria


As Puerto Rico prepares for another Hurricane season this year, exerts are still assessing the damage caused by the disastrous Hurricane Maria which hit the country last year, causing as many as 4,600 deaths. Researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health say that the leading cause of death in the wake of Puerto Rico’s devastating disaster was delayed medical health.

Over 4,000 Deaths

A new study conducted by a group of researchers from Harvard School of Public Health showed that a greater number of people died in last year’s Hurricane Maria than in the previous year but the research published recently in The New England Journal of Medicine still needs more precise findings to come to definitive conclusion.

However, the study does use precise methods to determine an estimate of the death toll which was dramatically underrepresented by the Puerto Rican government which claimed that only 64 people died from the disaster. Even months after the disastrous floods and winds cut water and electricity supplies and swept away people’ home, most of the damage still hasn’t been repaired.

The New York Times conducted a statistical analysis in December, 2017 to discover that more than a thousand additional people had died in the three months that followed the storm, increasing the total death toll to 4,600 civilians.

The government’s measly figure of 64 deaths has been repeatedly challenged by various news organizations and international investigative teams including Buzzfeed and CNN. All agencies have come to a mutual conclusion that hundreds of people continued to die after the storm ended due to inadequate medical care.

Harvard Study Reports New Mortality Rate

The new death toll of 40 people in 3,000 residences was used as a sample size to extrapolate the mortality rate of the island’s entire population. The results were then compared with the largely-understated official report released by the Puerto Rican government.

In the latest study by Harvard’s independent researchers, more than three thousand Puerto Rican families were interviewed, after which it was discovered that almost 40 people from the participating households had been killed by the Hurricane.

Researchers have cautioned that since the study was conducted on a small portion of the island’s population, it doesn’t necessarily reflect the true mortality rate, which could fall anywhere from 800 to 8,000 deaths.

Among the family that were surveyed for the study, 15 per cent said that they lost a loved one because medicines were inaccessible for days after the storm, while 10 per cent revealed that a lost member was reliant on breathing equipment which only worked with electricity. The storm had wiped out power in most neighborhoods for days – and in some, even weeks.

Closed medical facilities and unavailability of physicians were also to blame for some of the deaths, according to the surveys. What was really striking about the new research was that almost one-third of the deaths occurred due to a delay in medical help.

Government to Review Earlier Reports

After facing intense pressure from the international community, the Puerto Rican government agreed to review its earlier reports of the deaths that occurred due to Hurricane Maria and include the number of people who were either killed directly or indirectly from the natural disaster.

Lawmakers have requested George Washington University’s public health sector to conduct a thorough research but the analysis is still in its preliminary stages. The school’s dean has assured that his researchers are acquiring data using all information available from medical homes and funeral homes as well as wide survey across the island.

Researchers say that the initial review is expected to cost over $300,000 and will be released during summer. The island’s government said that it is looking forward to the new survey and is hopeful that it will shed new light onto the disastrous consequences of the hurricane.

A different research conducted last year revealed that many civilians living in remote areas were displaced from their homes for months and didn’t have the essential utilities for survival. The surveyors were faced with numerous geological and technological challenges such as lack of cell service and landslides in mountainous regions which prevented them from conducting a more thorough research.

The researchers visited both urban and rural areas on the island to ensure equal representation in the study and chose residences randomly, asking questions about any deaths in the family or neighborhood that they were aware of. The lead researcher, Dr. Marques says that people are still recovering from the previous hurricane while a new stormy season is upon the island once again.

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