A much-anticipated report out of George Washington University Tuesday shows that Hurricane Maria resulted in 2,975 excess Puerto Rican deaths in the six months after the storm’s landfall.
This latest death toll, gathered by a team of independent researchers, is more than twice the rate of what the Puerto Rican government admitted to earlier this month. It’s also an incredible increase from the earliest official estimate of 64 deaths, showing how the island’s devastation may have been underestimated for months after the storm hit shores last September, while many Americans there languished without electricity or access to medical care.
The study is based on mortality data that compares deaths from September 2017 to February 2018 to years prior, according to the Washington Post. Puerto Rico’s governor commissioned the George Washington University report in February after advocates decried the initial death toll estimate as egregiously low.
Ahead of the hurricane, the researchers wrote that communication plans between federal and first-responder agencies and were not coordinated and led to “inoperable and disconnected emergency plans.”
“Overall, we estimate that 40 percent of municipalities experienced significantly higher mortality in the study period than in the comparable period of the previous two years,” the researchers wrote.
The latest death toll is still lower than what Harvard University researchers estimated in May, at 4,645 deaths, although that study included things like shuttered hospitals and interrupted healthcare.
At the time Puerto Rico’s more recent estimate of 1,427 deaths was made public, officials there were requesting $139 billion in aid from legislators to fix the various ills that have plagued the island for nearly a year.
Cover image: A demonstrator places a candle next to empty pairs of shoes displayed outside the Capital building during a protest against the government's reporting of the death toll from Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Friday, June 1, 2018. (Photo: Xavier Garcia/Bloomberg via Getty Images)