Puerto Rico Hurricane Death Toll Over 70X Greater Than Official Count

A man walks past destroyed homes in Catano Puerto Rico

A man walks past destroyed homes in Catano Puerto Rico

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (CBS SF/AP) - A new study contends that Puerto Rico saw many more deaths than normal in the three months after Hurricane Maria devastated the island, mostly because of problems getting medicines or medical care.

A closer look at the Buckee calculation shows that while the researchers estimate 4,645 deaths, statistically there's a 95 percent chance that the actual number could be as low as 793 and as high as 8,498. That allowed researchers to estimate the number of deaths that likely occurred as a result of Hurricane Maria between the date of the storm and December 31, 2017.

This morning's reminder comes in the form of a New England Journal of Medicine article by Nishant Kishore and colleagues at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Researchers surveyed households on the battered island in Maria's wake.

Maria caused the longest blackout in US history, leaving the entire island of 3.3 million people without power, including those in hospitals and nursing homes who relied on respirators.

Rivera said that the new study's figure of 4,645 excess deaths over 3 1/2 months sounds "really high", but that there's no way to know for sure until the Department of Health releases updated death statistics.

In the days after Maria slammed the island as a near Category 5 hurricane, the island has struggled to return to normalcy.

After the storm, authorities in Puerto Rico placed the death toll at 64. Thousands of deaths could've been prevented, were it for a more reliable, sturdier power grid, more responsive federal and local governments, and a prioritized focus on hospitals and healthcare.

Hurricane Maria likely killed thousands of people across Puerto Rico a year ago, more than 70 times the official estimate, a Harvard study released Tuesday says.

"The difference is that we went out and we had boots on the ground and we did the interviews", said Domingo Marqués, an associate professor of clinical psychology at Carlos Albizu University in Puerto Rico, who was among the report's authors.

"Indirect deaths resulting from worsening of chronic conditions or from delayed medical treatments may not be captured on death certificates", researchers said in the study.

More than 93% of people invited to take the survey agreed to do so.

Puerto Rico's case is unique in that it's a territory of a highly developed country where the overwhelming majority of citizens have electricity access.

The storm knocked out key infrastructure across Puerto Rico. We found many still without homes and thousands who had been living without electricity since the day Hurricane Maria struck.

Orlando Gonzalez holds his daughter Nahielys as they attend the funeral of their neighbor Victor Ruiz Ramos in Corozal, Puerto Rico on October 2, 2017. That number could increase, the study adds. After adjusting for single-person households, the estimated number of excess deaths jumped to 5,740.

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