Hurricane Maria: Death toll 50 times higher than first estimate

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Researchers with The Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University said the official death count from the Category 4 storm that hit on September 20 was low in part because physicians were not trained on how to certify deaths after a disaster.

After almost a year of controversy over the true toll of the 2017 monster storm, the governor of Puerto Rico said the new estimate would now be considered the official death toll.

"The results of our epidemiological study suggest that, tragically, Hurricane Maria led to a large number of excess deaths throughout the island".

Last October, Trump visited Puerto Rico. Residents here say they've been disappointed with the federal response following Hurricane Maria.

Households went for an average of 84 days without electricity, 64 days without water, and 41 days without cellular telephone coverage after the storm.

Today, Rosselló said at a news conference that the government accepted the GWU number as an updated death toll, "keeping in mind that it's still an estimate".

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To arrive at the 2,975 figure, the study looked at historical death patterns from 2010 to 2017 to estimate how many people would have died had Hurricane Maria not hit the island.

The study found that while all age groups and social strata were affected by the hurricane, the risk of death was "45% higher and persistent until the end of the study period for populations living in low socioeconomic development municipalities". Researchers said the next stage of assessing the death toll includes examining death certificates and interviewing family and friends of the deceased to determine if those deaths should be attributed to the storm.

Puerto Rican Bethzaida Rosado said she didn't believe the government was ready for the storm, and is still angry about the death of her 76-year-old mother.

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.

Hurricane Maria, which stuck Puerto Rico about a year ago, killed 2,975 people there, according to an independent investigation commissioned by the US territory.

The report found that "lack of communication, well established guidelines and lack of training for physicians on how to certify deaths in disasters, resulted in a limited number of deaths being identified as hurricane related".

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There is no national standard for how to count disaster-related deaths.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, who was vocal in her criticisms of the federal government's handling of relief efforts after the hurricane, said the deaths reported Tuesday were due partly to negligence.

However, they did not share details of the methodology, saying those will be released if the study is published in a scientific journal.

It found that government emergency plans in place when Maria hit were not designed for hurricanes greater than a Category 1.

The researchers also said the public health system needs to be strengthened, though Goldman said they don't know yet whether those weaknesses contributed to storm-related deaths.

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