Some 1,139 people are likely to have perished after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September, far more than the official death count of 64, according to a Pennsylvania State University study published Thursday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The study underscores the extent to which President Donald Trump initially underestimated the tragedy during an Oct. 3 visit when he compared it favorably to “a real catastrophe like Katrina,” the storm that hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, because the official death toll was less than 20 at the time. The report also suggests that 680 of the deaths occurred in October and November as much of the island remained without electricity.
But the report also adds to a cacophony of conflicting numbers, from the commonwealth’s double-digit official estimate to a Harvard University study in May that put the total at around 5,000, even more than the 1,833 who perished in Katrina.
The latest report used official death statistics from January 2010 through December 2017 to estimate excess mortality after the storm. The authors, led by Penn State’s Alexis Santos-Lozada, said their analysis of vital records provided more reliable results than the widely-cited Harvard study, which relied on a survey method. Jeffrey Howard of the University of Texas at San Antonio also contributed to the research.
Amid criticism of the official count, Puerto Rico’s government tapped researchers at George Washington University to conduct a review of the death count, but thus far no results have been published.
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