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Puerto Rico concedes: Death toll from Hurricane Maria is 20 times higher than estimates

Puerto Rico concedes: Death toll from Hurricane Maria is 20 times higher than estimates
[Photo: Roosevelt Skerrit/Wikimedia Commons]

The government of Puerto Rico has quietly revised the death toll from Hurricane Maria. While initial government reports put the number at 64, that number has now been revised to 1,427 people. The news, first spotted by the New York Times, was tucked into a request to Congress asking for $139 billion in recovery funds.

The initial death toll estimate came from Puerto Rico’s Demographic Registry, but critics had decried the number as wildly underestimating the damage. The category-five storm blasted the island, knocking out power, destroying homes, erasing roads, and cutting off food and water supplies.

“We have always said that the official number [of deaths] will definitely increase,” Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló, said in a conversation with Fast Company earlier this year. However, he was waiting for the results of a report commissioned by the Government of Puerto Rico, which asked researchers at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health to find the true cost of the storms. The report is expected to be released this month.

While the death toll is a bleak number, it’s far less than the number shown in a Harvard study that concluded it was closer to a staggering 4,600 people. Harvard’s study noted that 83% of the households in Puerto Rico were without electrical power for the time period looked at, more than 100 days, from the date of the hurricane until the end of 2017, which contributed to the number of deaths.

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