Days before the 2018 hurricane season begins on June 1, a new report sheds light on a devastating 2017 storm.
According to a new study from Harvard University researchers, at least 4,645 people died in Puerto Rico as a result of Hurricane Maria, which hit the island on September 20. The official government tally is 64 fatalities.
“Our results indicate that the official death count of 64 is a substantial underestimate of the true burden of mortality after Hurricane Maria,” the authors—researchers and scientists at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center—wrote.
Per The Washington Post:
The Harvard findings indicate that health care disruption for the elderly and the loss of basic utility services for the chronically ill had significant impacts, and the study criticized Puerto Rico’s methods for counting the dead—and its lack of transparency in sharing information—as detrimental to planning for future natural disasters. The authors called for patients, communities and doctors to develop contingency plans for such disasters.
Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló spoke at a news conference on Tuesday (May 29), saying, “We want the real numbers to come out. We had a protocol that really was sub-par and we recognize it and now towards the future we want to make sure that it is effective.” In response to previous criticism that the official death count was too low, Rosselló requested that researchers from George Washington University review the government’s death certification process. The results are expected in June.
Since the Harvard study’s release on Tuesday (May 29) in the New England Journal of Medicine, there has been widespread condemnation of the government’s assertion that so few died in the storm. Politicians, activists and organizations that provide aid took to Twitter to react to the report:
My full statement on latest study on death toll in Puerto Rico is below. pic.twitter.com/PM7KeMGlIj— Rep. Nydia Velazquez (@NydiaVelazquez) May 29, 2018
Official death count was < 70, but @Harvard study shows at least 4,645 died in #PuertoRico due to #hurricaneMaria.— NationalNursesUnited (@NationalNurses) May 29, 2018
NNU nurses provided relief after the hurricane, saw firsthand the response from U.S. federal government was unacceptable. https://t.co/yHxes9kPBp
Listen a white women and her crazy rants should not be leading anyone’s feed today, forget her and her racist tweets. Instead amplify that close to 5000 people have died in Puerto Rico in relation to #HurricaneMaria here is the link https://t.co/EmV7YBXi7S— Rosa A. Clemente (@rosaclemente) May 29, 2018
honor the lives of 4600 Puerto Ricans who died because of US colonial policy of austerity,neglect,disaster capitalism & legacy extraction of Puerto Rican land & labor contributing to #hurricaneMaria #climateinjustice- #OurPowerPRnyc ioining this group of clergy please share?? pic.twitter.com/ddIChY0y6p— Elizabeth Yeampierre (@yeampierre) May 29, 2018
My God. Now, we read death toll in Puerto Rico from #HurricaneMaria, was over 4,500 more deaths than was first reported. You think that would have been allowed to happen, and then go unreported in Texas or Florida? Puerto Ricans are Americans, damn it. ??https://t.co/xYRheEGLDI— Ana Navarro (@ananavarro) May 29, 2018
Can we NOT forget about the 4,645 Puerto Ricans––all U.S. citizens; more important, human beings-–who died during #HurricaneMaria and its aftermath?— Jose Antonio Vargas (@joseiswriting) May 29, 2018