In the aftermath of the devastation from Hurricane Maria that struck the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico in September, officials estimated that as many as 64 people had lost their lives directly because of the powerful storm.
Though authorities admitted that the number was probably lower than the actual death toll, it nevertheless presented that number in May as the official body count of people who perished because of the storm in September and the following four months.
But now authorities in Puerto Rico are claiming that the death toll is actually closer to 3,000 from the storm — 2,975 is the estimate — a number that was reached in a study conducted by George Washington University, according to CNN.
“Even though it is an estimate, we are officially changing, or we are putting an official number to the death toll. We will take the 2,975 number as the official estimate for the excess deaths as a product of Maria,” Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosello told reporters on Tuesday.
“This is an approximation, a scientific study where the deaths are estimated. We don’t have the names. That is something that will take place throughout this process. And this number can change. It could be less, it could be more, as time passes,” Rosello said.
As shockingly high as that estimated death toll is, it isn’t the highest guess for Puerto Rican deaths attributable to Maria. That dubious honor was earned by a team or researchers from Harvard University, who published a ridiculous estimated death toll of 4,645 people in May.
According to The Washington Post, that study has been largely dismissed as incredibly inaccurate due to the manner in which the estimate was reached and presented. As it turns out, the researchers only queried a small number of households and then extrapolated from that an excessively broad range of estimated deaths — 793 to 8,498 — with researchers settling on a midpoint of 4,645.
Other media outlets and university research teams conducted their own studies and reached death toll estimates ranging from as low as 822 to as high as 1,194, but none of those numbers gained traction with the Puerto Rican government.
Instead, the Puerto Rican government submitted a report to Congress in early August which claimed a death toll of 1,427 people, according to an article at that time by the Washington Examiner.
That estimated death toll was included as part of a draft report detailing the island’s $139 billion reconstruction plans, a sum Puerto Rico no doubt expects will be paid for, at least in part, by taxpayers in the contiguous U.S.
In a separate report about the new GWU study claiming 2,975 deaths attributable to Hurricane Maria, the wide-ranging estimates in the various disparate studies was noted.
“We have always expected the number to be higher than what was previously reported. That is why we commissioned The George Washington University to carry out a thorough study on the number of fatalities caused by Hurricane Maria which will be released soon,” said Carlos Mercader, executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, in May.
“Both studies will help us better prepare for future natural disasters and prevent lives from being lost,” Mercader added.
Unsurprisingly, the vastly higher death toll estimate provided now as compared to the previous estimate maintained for months by the Puerto Rican government is causing some skepticism.
To be sure, it is entirely possible that more than 3,000 people died as a result of Hurricane Maria, but bearing in mind the manner in which the Puerto Rican disaster was used to attack President Donald Trump and that government’s obvious desire for additional federal funds, it is suspected by some that the body count — which is a prime factor in determining federal aid — is being inflated over actual numbers.
The Puerto Rican government has repeatedly proven itself to be utterly incompetent and corrupt, so much so that even an accurate death toll nearly a year after a major hurricane and tons of media exposure and university assistance seems to be out of its reach. Yet, Puerto Rico now presents a death toll that will be used to justify receiving more of our tax dollars, while the president’s haters get a massive death toll to lay at Trump’s feet.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.