SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO (AUGUST 28, 2018) (GOVERNMENT HANDOUT) – Hurricane Maria, the most powerful storm to strike Puerto Rico in nearly 90 years, is estimated to account for nearly 3,000 deaths, far more than the official toll of 64, according to a study commissioned by the island’s government and released on Tuesday (August 28).
The report found that 2,975 deaths could be attributed directly or indirectly to Maria from the time it struck in September 2017 to mid-February of this year, based on comparisons between predicted mortality under normal circumstances and deaths documented after the storm.
“I am announcing as well that we are, even though it is an estimate, we are officially changing the … we are actually putting an official number to the death toll and we will make it the 2,975 as the official estimate for the excess deaths as a product of Maria,” Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rossello said on Tuesday (August 28).
“It is a time to show solidarity with all of those who have lost family and friends, it is also a time to reflect on what we did well and what we did badly so that we can establish how to correct what we didn’t do well so that we have a better response in the future,” he added.
The study, conducted by George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health, also found that the risk of death from the hurricane was substantially higher for the poor and elderly men.
A previous study from a Harvard University-led research team released in May estimated that 4,645 lives were lost from Maria on the Caribbean island, and a Pennsylvania State University study put the number at 1,085.
The emergency response to the storm became highly politicized as the Trump administration was criticized as being slow to recognize the gravity of the devastation and too sluggish in providing disaster relief to Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory of more than 3 million residents.
The storm made landfall on Puerto Rico with winds close to 150 miles per hour (241 kph) on Sept. 17 and plowed a path of destruction across the island, causing property damage estimated at $90 billion and leaving much of the island without electricity for months.