The official death toll of Hurricane Maria has been raised, making it the second deadliest storm to hit the U.S. in the last century
A new assessment conducted by researchers from the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health has prompted the U.S. government to raise the official Hurricane Maria death toll from 64 to 2,975. The new death toll makes Hurricane Maria the second deadliest hurricane to strike the U.S. in the past century, second only to the 1900 Galveston Hurricane which claimed more than 8,000 lives, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The George Washington University study was commissioned by the U.S. government and investigated both direct and indirect factors that contributed to hurricane-related deaths. The study looked at deaths from Sept. 2017 to Feb. 2018 and compared that number to the average number of fatalities for that time period in Puerto Rico, where the storm hit the hardest. Overall, the study found that 22% more deaths than normally would have occurred during that period in Puerto Rico occurred following the hurricane.
While the immediate threats the hurricane provided, such as flooding and high winds, led to significant damage, the after effects, including lack of relief supplies, drinking water and electricity, is a factor in the hurricane-related deaths. Power on Puerto Rico was only restored last month, according to the New York Times.
“Hurricane Maria was a catastrophe of historic proportions, as never seen or lived before in the U.S.,” said Carlos Mercander, executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration. The analysis, “is sobering, and its insights make clear that Congress and FEMA must work with us to establish a better system for the preparation and distribution of supplies ahead of future disasters.”
The next phase of the George Washington study will investigate death certificates recorded in the months after the hurricane and seek to assess whether individual deaths should be attributed to the storm.
“The lesson from this is that efforts for assistance and recovery need to focus as much as possible on lower-income areas, on people who are older, on people who are more vulnerable, because of having fewer of their own resources,” said Dr. Lynn Goldman, dean of the Milken Institute.