Nearly 3,000 Puerto Ricans died due to Hurricane Maria, according to a George Washington University report commissioned by Governor Ricardo Rossello that’s the latest to assert that the island government’s initial tally severely underestimated the storm’s death toll.
Rossello’s administration originally estimated that 64 people died because of the September hurricane. But that calculation came into question amid independent tallies from journalists and academics, leading the governor to commission the university’s report.
The government declined to officially update its death count while the study was underway, waiting for the results to resolve a debate that’s persisted since soon after Maria. But in the interim, several other academics have published competing studies, including one that estimated 5,000 were left dead. “The results of our epidemiological study suggest that, tragically, Hurricane Maria led to a large number of excess deaths throughout the island. Certain groups – those in lower income areas and the elderly – faced the highest risk,” said Dr. Carlos Santos-Burgoa, the principal investigator of the project and a professor of global health at George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health.
The study, released Tuesday, estimates that there were 2,975 excess deaths related to the hurricane from September to February. The researchers studied death certificates and other data for the period, comparing total number of deaths to the expected number based on historical patterns. They accounted for age, sex and migration from the island.