The governor of Puerto Rico announced on Tuesday that a new balance sheet indicates that Hurricane Maria caused 2,975 deaths after a new investigation. The University of Washington’s estimate is almost 50 times higher than that of the Puerto Rican government, released in December 2017, which indicated that 64 people would have died.
“I’m giving an order to update the official death toll to 2,975,” said the governor Ricardo Rossello at a press conference on Tuesday, cited by BBC .
“While this is an estimate, [the numbers] have a scientific basis,” the governor added. According to Rossello, drawing up a complete list of hurricane-related deaths can take months or years.
The latest findings come from a new government-mandated investigation conducted by specialists at the George Washington University’s Milken Institute of Public Health about the excess mortality estimated by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
“This shows the magnitude of the catastrophe,” Governor Rossello told El Nuevo Dia newspaper .
Puerto Rico has been trying to repair the infrastructure and power grid of the entire territory since the storm in September 2017. The island has proposed to the US Congress a $ 139 billion rebuilding plan.
In a statement , White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said that “the federal government has supported and will continue to support Rossello’s efforts to ensure full accountability and transparency of fatalities resulting from last year’s hurricanes.”
Number almost 50 times higher
At the time of the storm, the official balance was 64 mortal victims. However, island officials believed that the death toll could be far higher. Subsequently, the country’s government acknowledged that the death toll was over 1,400 .
The initial number of the Puerto Rican Government was obtained on the basis of the victims crushed by collapsing structures, drowning and struck by debris. “At that time, this [64 dead] was the number we had. We now have evidence that indicates that the number was definitely greater,” said Rossello.
However, many people also died as a result of lack of health services, electricity and clean water.
In addition, several power outages led to an increase in the number of deaths from illness.
“I’m not perfect, I make mistakes, but the retrospective is 20-20,” he told El Nuevo Dia Rossello, who was questioned about the lack of acknowledgment of a higher death toll by the Puerto Rican administration so far.
According to Rossello, doctors “were not aware” of how to appropriately certify the deaths attributed to natural disasters.
“The responsibility to judge the cause of the deaths fell on the doctors,” said Rossello. “But unfortunately there was no formal process to prepare them for this kind of devastation,” he added.
The George Washington University study reveals that the risk of dying as a result of storms was higher for residents living in Puerto Rico’s poorest municipalities.
According to experts, knowing exactly how and why people died can help authorities prevent future hurricane-related deaths.
Trump continues in silence
President Donald Trump was criticized in the weeks following the storm. At the time, several critics accused the head of state of showing more concern for residents of Texas and Florida after being hit by hurricanes.
So far, the US President has not yet spoken about the new estimate of the death toll from the Maria drill.
“If we look at a real catastrophe such as Katrina, with hundreds and hundreds of people dead, and look at what happened here, a storm that was totally overwhelming – nobody saw anything like that,” the conference .
“Sixteen people against thousands [balance of the number of dead at that time]. You can be very proud of what happened in Puerto Rico, “Trump said.
The official death toll for Hurricane Maria is significant because the families of those who died in the aftermath of the storm are eligible to receive some funeral expenses covered by the US Government.
The drilling Maria struck the island in September 2017, devastating the infrastructure and power grid of Puerto Rico. In addition, the country’s dwellings still suffer from lack of services.
Mary is ranked as the third most financially expensive cyclone in US history since 1900. The death toll is one third higher than the most expensive – Hurricane Katrina in 2005, with an estimated 1,833 deaths.