Almost 3,000 deaths in Puerto Rico linked to Maria

Gerald Herbert  AP FILEDestroyed communities are seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Toa Alta Puerto Rico Sept. 28 2017

Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, who commissioned the study, told El Nuevo Dia that the territory had not been adequately prepared for a direct hit from a major hurricane.

Responding to a George Washington University study that found almost 3,000 people died in last year's storm, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the Trump administration supports "ensure a full accountability and transparency of fatalities".

"These numbers are only the latest to underscore that the federal response to the hurricanes was disastrously inadequate and, as a result, thousands of our fellow American citizens lost their lives", she said in a statement.

"I'm giving an order to update the official number of deaths to 2,975", Rossello said at a press conference on Tuesday. "What is your death count, as of this moment - 17?"

Dr Goldman added: "That caused a number of issues".

The report, which analyzed processes related to death certification, says that physicians and forensic physicians are among those in Puerto Rico who are authorized to complete death certificates, but that most physicians have no formal training in how to do so.

The death toll was estimated at 64 following the devastating storm that struck the U.S. island territory in September 2017.

Hurricane Maria was the most powerful storm to strike the Caribbean island in nearly a century.




The new report, though, takes into account an 8 percent drop in the USA territory's population after the storm as thousands of survivors left quickly for the mainland.

The Puerto Rican government's longstanding official death toll from Maria had been just 64.

The researchers found that the risk of death was 45 per cent higher for those living in impoverished communities, and that men over 65 saw a continuous elevated risk of death. "We are focused on Puerto Rico's recovery and preparedness for the current Hurricane season". They also reviewed mortality data, including deaths by age, sex and municipality of residence, from July 2010 to February 2018.

The George Washington study followed a similar methodology as earlier estimates, comparing deaths after the storm to previous years.

"Many stated that the Puerto Rico Department of Health (DoH) and the Puerto Rico Department of Public Safety (DPS) did not notify them about the CDC special guidelines for correct documentation of cases, on the importance of correctly documenting deaths related to the hurricane or on an emergency protocol for handling these cases", it says. Since then, several studies have indicated the actual death toll was much higher, though researchers have arrived at a range of different figures.

Researchers said they took into account an 8 percent drop in Puerto Rico's population that occurred from September 2017 to mid-February 2018, when tens of thousands fled the damage left by the storm. Maria was a Category 4 with 154-mph winds.

Today, GW Milken Institute SPH, in collaboration with researchers from the University of Puerto Rico Graduate School of Public Health, delivered on that request.

Rossello pledged to carry out the recommendations, though there are questions about Puerto Rico's ability to do so.

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